Thursday, March 24, 2011


A short note for my fellow Michael Connelly fans - The Lincoln Lawyer is worth watching. Opening last weekend, it ranked in fourth place. Ninety-five percent of its viewers were over 25, which means the theaters were relatively quiet and unsticky (check here for other stats). Rotten Tomatoes currently rates it in the 80% range, which isn't shabby.

But you don't care about the figures, most likely. You've read the book, and you want to know how the movie measures up. You won't love it as much as you loved the original, of course. No bibliophile ever does. Still, it's an entertaining story.

Matthew McConaughey is a good Mickey Haller, shameless but likeable. William H. Macy is a fine investigator. Don't listen to critics who complain that Ryan Phillippe is just too sweet to be Louis Roulet - isn't that the point? On the other hand, Marisa Tomei smiles too much. She is not a credible Maggie McFierce.

The action follows the book's plot as closely as a 2-hour film can follow a 432-page book - which is to say, perhaps too closely. A lot of quick comments and short scenes set up the plot and move it along. Some take the place of adequate plot development. Some events seem to happen too quickly or out of the blue, especially if you, say, sneezed just as the explanatory sentence was uttered.

The central problem with this movie, though, is that it follows the wrong thread.
The beauty of Michael Connelly's books is that they're not all about plot. His major characters, and many of his minor ones, are well developed. Big questions are never far from the surface. Mickey Haller is dealing with a legal conflict, to be sure, but his larger conflict is in his soul. After years of being the best public defender in L.A., can he tell the difference between innocence and guilt? Has he lost his own innocence? When terrible events start to unroll, is he in any way culpable?

The movie Haller recapitulates the actions of the book Haller, but he shows no character development whatsoever. Yes, he asks one or two of the big questions in some of those speedy scenes, but he is not possessed by them. By the end, he has solved his legal problem and is still alive (which is not always a certain outcome), but he is still who he was at the beginning.

The director could have made The Lincoln Lawyer a psychological thriller. The movie could have been dark and deep and terrifying. Instead, it is witty, fast-paced, scary in places, but far from profound. It's good entertainment, but - even though Connelly was one of the screenwriters - it doesn't begin to do what his books do.

And that's just another reason why we still need books. Connelly's next, The Fifth Witness, is due April 5.

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