'The Lincoln Lawyer' is a big-screen gem

If you are a fan of writer Michael Connelly, then it's possible you've read "The Lincoln Lawyer." Connelly, once a Los Angeles crime reporter turned fiction writer, has created a memorable series of L.A. based crime novels, many featuring detective Hieronymous Bosch. All are engaging reads.

"The Lincoln Lawyer" is one of those best-selling novels, adapted to the screen by scriptwriter Joe Romano. Mickey Haller, the lead character, is a Los Angeles defense attorney, denizen of a chauffeured Lincoln Continental that he uses as his mobile office. He is the half-brother of Harry Bosch, and, like Harry, he's flawed, street smart, resilient and guided by his own moral gyroscope. He can be a hard case when the need arises; but then working the gritty back streets of L.A. isn't for the faint of heart.

Matthew McConaughey, thankfully having moved beyond the sugarcoated, flash-the-six-pack rom-coms of the last several years, chews up the L.A. scenery in this compelling whodunit. The corner-cutting Haller is his best role since "A Time to Kill," a remarkable legal thriller, based on John Grisham's debut novel that was only picked up after he hit with "The Firm."

Haller takes his clients where he can find them, defending bikers and hookers, and, as is revealed, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a rich kid from a prominent family, accused of raping and beating a prostitute who was working one of the downtown bars. While guilt or innocence is not relevant to providing a solid defense, and Mick's mantra is, ala Jerry Maguire, "show me the money," he does acknowledge that the most terrifying client a lawyer can have is one who is innocent.

And so Haller begins to peel the onion, building the defense, using his lead investigator, Frank Levin (William H. Macy). Levin's no rookie, his face deeply lined, his eyes tired, his hair touching his shoulders. What's the adage? It's not your age, it's the mileage. Like Mick, he's intuitive, knows the streets and is bull-dog tenacious. Character actor Macy, one of the best working today, is exceptional, as are all of the actors in "The Lincoln Lawyer," especially Marisa Tomei.

Her face is now lined and even more attractive as her strength and character shine through. Maturing, accomplished actresses such as Tomei are a treasure and too often underused in Hollywood. She nails her character: Maggie McPherson, Mick's ex-wife, mother (they share custody of a small girl) and an assistant district attorney.

This is a film that should be seen on the big screen where the fine work of cinematographer Luke Ettlin can truly be appreciated. L.A. is awash in bleached-out colors, interesting characters and the few palm trees visible belie the fact that though Lotus Land can look like a postcard, in truth, it's a hardscrabble place, like so many sprawling cities teeming with people trying to stay just above the Plimsoll line.

"The Lincoln Lawyer" is great filmmaking, if you are enamored of the genre. And an entertaining and engaging genre it is.


Likely you've seen the commercial: An egg is shown, with voice over saying, "This is your brain." The egg is broken and the yoke and white are dropped into a hot frying pan. The voice over then says, "And this is your brain on drugs." The egg sizzles, the edges grow crispy, even black. It's a brief, cautionary tale. And so is the intense and very entertaining thriller, "Limitless."

The film does have a riveting premise. But first, back to the egg. "This is your brain." And then, "This is your brain on NZT." No frying pan, just one small, clear tab, placed on the tongue. Within minutes everything glows, bathed in an intense light. All things become possible. If you were cruising through life in first or second gear, using some 20 percent of your brain cells (which, we're told, is par), with NZT you are suddenly in fourth gear and revving the engine to full capacity. Which is what happens to Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper).

We first see Eddie — scruffy, depressed, suffering from serious writer's block — walking down a busy New York City avenue, wondering where he will find the juice to even write the first sentence of a book for which he has received a generous advance. His long-suffering girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), has just broken up with him, and he is significantly bummed. That's when he bumps into his ex-brother-in-law, Vern (Johnny Whitworth), a long-time street hustler and dealer. Vern slips Eddie a small, plastic baggy with a gel-like pill inside and tells him it is FDA approved, no worries. Eddie, at first skeptical, takes it on his way back to his grungy apartment. And that's when things profoundly change.

This pill is not experiential. In other words, it's not a self-induced hallucination buttressed by a lava lamp. This is extreme, fuel-injected, pedal-to-the-metal, hyper-cognitive stuff. Eddie writes most of his book in one sitting and looks around and realizes that there are other dragons to slay, like the stock market.

It's at this juncture that things get very tense. Hooked, Eddie returns to Vern's apartment and tells him that whatever that was, the NZT, well, he'll need a steady supply. Vern agrees and suggests that first Eddie might go and pick up some breakfast and his dry cleaning. When Eddie returns, things go dark and dicey and Eddie's path to a brave new world is suddenly replete with predators.

Meanwhile, jacked up on NZT, he is transformed: designer clothes, new haircut and an arbitrage office with computers and graphs, showcasing his newest talents. He's a rock star of high finance.

"Limitless" is hot. A ride. Flawed to be sure — the ending is a bit weak — but who cares, really. It is simply a good B-movie entertainment. And suddenly, in March, we're awash with well-made, high-octane Bs. Which is all to the good.

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