courtroom drama

Review: The Lincoln Lawyer

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The Pitch: Matthew McConaughey is courting favour once again…

The Review: It’s been fifteen years, believe it or not, since Matthew McConaughey was hailed as The Next Big Thing. His starring role in the John Grisham legal adaptation A Time To Kill, and his performance at the head of a cast that ranged from Sandra Bullock to Kevin Spacey and nearly everyone in between seemed to see him set for fame and fortune. Sadly, everything since has been an anti-climax, and the last decade has seen him stuck in a rut of poor action movies and even poorer romantic comedies. So where better to retreat to than the courtroom when it’s time to try to refresh that career? For some reason, McConaughey’s career seems to come built in with low expectations, but anyone going into The Lincoln Lawyer should have no qualms about raising them.

The Lincoln Lawyer is an adaptation of Michael Connolly’s novel in which he introduces the character of Mick Haller (McConaughey). Based out of the back of his Lincoln town car, Haller oozes charm and has an angle or a play for every situation. He’s recommended to pick up the case of spoiled rich kid Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), accused of assault but adamant of his innocence. As he digs deeper into the case, he juggles not only the other clients he represents, but also his ex-wife (Marisa Tomei) and their young daughter. Things aren’t as they first seem and soon Haller is having to find new angles and new plays as his own situation worsens.

If you came in half way through The Lincoln Lawyer, you may be forgiven for thinking that it’s a bog standard legal thriller, albeit a well executed one. But by then you’d already have missed several of the twists and turns that the plot takes, and director Brad Furman keeps the pace moving along effortlessly. The film does succeed in subverting expectations and plays with the conventions of the genre, so it manages to feel fresher than it probably should, and McConaughey gives a rangy, solid performance, both likeable and human and keeping you guessing as to his far ahead, if at all, he is of the plot gears turning.

McConaughey has outshone much better casts, but The Lincoln Lawyer does at least have a quality roster of character actors, including the likes of William H Macy, Bryan Cranston and Bob Gunton give solid support. Marisa Tomei especially continues the good run she’s been on and McConaughey will, I’m sure, be hoping for a similarly good sequence of parts to befall him in the next few years. When it comes to summing up, The Lincoln Lawyer is quietly efficient and solid, rather than spectacular, entertainment but it’s a welcome return to form for its lead; let’s hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of Mick Haller on the big screen.

Why see it at the cinema: The tense, sweaty atmosphere will bubble and simmer nicely inside a packed cinema – this is good enough to deserve at least one or two of those.

The Score: 7/10

Review: Conviction

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The Pitch: Oh my god, they falsely imprisoned Kenny! You bastards!

The Review: True stories have always been a staple of cinema, and when it comes to recognition, either from audiences or their peers, then it’s sometimes the sheer magnitude of the events that can determine how much attention you should give. So try this one for size: guy gets arrested, tried and imprisoned for murder but proclaims his innocence. OK, you’re thinking, so far so typical, but then how about this: sister of imprisoned murderer believes his innocence but can’t find a way to convince anyone, and their poor background means they can’t afford fancy lawyers. So she decides to become a fancy lawyer herself, attempting to put herself through a degree, law school and then to attempt to overturn the conviction.

If it sounds like a TV movie of the week, then the material might well be a staple of that genre, but the acting talent here raises things up a level or two. Sam Rockwell is one of the most versatile actors of his generation, so manages to inhabit Kenny Waters successfully to the extent where he fully engages your sympathies, but that you still believe he might have been capable of the crime in question. Taking the other main role of his sister, and carrying the film for long stretches, is Hilary “I’ve got two Oscars me” Swank, portraying a naivety at first, then a grim determination to see her quest through, and at the same time rid herself of the giant Eighties hair she’s portrayed with at the start of the film.

This is one of the side effects of the passage of time the film portrays; not only through a large chunk of adulthood, but the film also has a choppy narrative which allows it to cast back to the childhood of Kenny and Betty Anne, putting valuable context around their later situations and strengthening the bond between them, so we can understand exactly why Betty Anne gave up such a large part of her life on this quest. There’s a few famous faces along the way, including Minne Driver as Betty Anne’s best friend at law school and Juliette Lewis as a key witness at the original trial; Melissa Leo has also picked up a Golden Globe this year for her efforts in The Fighter, but she may be the only one from this cast to trouble the engravers at awards time and her role here is tiny.

The reason for that is not the strength of the acting, which is at least good across the board, or the story itself which is compelling, but the direction, from Tony Goldwyn. You might remember him from such films as Disney’s Tarzan (he was Tarzan) or Ghost (he was the creepy bad guy), but you might not remember him from his other directorial efforts, which have been predominantly TV shows, and this TV background does show through, unfortunately. The story, despite its epic sweep through the characters’ lives, does occasionally get bogged down; at the point when one crucial piece of evidence is missing, the characters spend so long looking I was tempted to offer to help myself. The movie also leaves out one crucial detail about the lives of the characters after the events of the movie that could have put an entirely different, and possibly more interesting, spin on the outcome. That said, if true stories with good acting are your thing, then I’m convinced you’ll get something from Conviction.

Why see it at the cinema: It’s the performances more than the visuals that will draw you in on this occasion, although there is the occasional well-framed image that deserves a big screen outing.

The Score: 7/10

Cambridge Film Festival Review: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes)

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The Pitch: One Angry Woman.

The Review: The Millennium trilogy has undoubtedly been a publishing sensation, but with the general public’s reticence to watch anything with subtitles, we’ll only truly know once David Fincher’s Dragon Tatto movie has been released if there is the potential for a movie version of these stories to truly connect with a global audience. What we have here, though, is a chance to at least assess the originals in their completed form. Niels Arden Oplev’s version of Dragon Tattoo was an original and compelling piece of work, but Daniel Alfredson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire was less successful, betraying its TV origins when the first movie felt cinematic and also feeling weaker in terms of story and construction.

Despite also originally being produced for Swedish TV, Hornet’s Nest bests the previous film in both areas, having more momentum and energy as well as feeling more rounded. The fact that it starts to tie some of the threads together from the previous two no doubt helps with that, but there’s some narrative shuffling at the beginning which only serves to raise the stakes. In a way this is odd; Dragon Tattoo felt self-contained, and the natural assumption would have been that its sequels would have seen Salander and Blomkvist continue to team up to get to the bottom of crimes, like a half-punk, half middle-aged Scooby Doo, but actually what we’ve had is three variations of tone and concept as part of the same over-arcing story.

The first movie was absolutely a detective story, and the second was more a thriller than anything else. This final chapter retains elements of the thriller, arguably implementing them more effectively this time around, but at the core is a courtroom drama. I don’t wish to give too much away as there are narrative threads running throughout the trilogy, but it’s Lisbeth’s story that is the focus and the repercussions that spread out more like shock waves than ripples. Noomi Rapace has been outstanding throughout the trilogy and that’s no different here; starting out beaten and withdrawn, but actually still the same old Salander beneath the façade.

Michael Nyqvist probably carries more of the story in this episode than in the earlier outings, and Lena Endre’s Erika Berger also comes more to the fore. Again, the acting from the supporting roles is pretty faultless, although it’s still Rapace that stands out. Aldredson’s direction is a little more efficient here, although it’s still not at the level of the first movie, but all in all this is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy and it’s only the middle which is the slightly weak link. David Fincher, the bar has been set.

Why see it at the cinema: If you’ve seen the first two at the cinema, then you should absolutely make the effort for the third. Even if you somehow caught the others by other means (and shame on you if that was the case), then this is still worth the trip out, especially for the higher tempo parts which benefit from freeing themselves from their TV confines.

The Score: 8/10