Smart and sassy, Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) has no problem running his business from the back of his Lincoln sedan with his driver, Earl (Laurence Mason). In fact, it’s perfect for those drive-by consultations with motorcycle gangs that can’t all fit in a tiny office. As a criminal defense attorney, Mick has what it takes to be street savvy and downright manipulative in the courtroom. He knows how to handle things to go his way, until he finds himself defending a rich playboy, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), accused of attempted murder.
What starts out as a straightforward case soon turns into a complex web of suspicion and manipulation. Mick finds himself battling with his conscience as he sorts out another case from his past, a dilemma involving an incarcerated individual, Jesus Martinez (passionately played by Michael Peña). His relationships are further complicated when his daughter’s mama, Maggie (Marisa Tomei), a prosecutor, re-enters his life, and they become subject to threat of harm. Frank (William H. Macy), Mick’s investigator, becomes the turning point of the thriller when he reveals he has a clue to the case.
Matthew McConaughey surprisingly plays Mick with a depth of character and stoicism that is rarely seen in his films. The easygoing Mick at the beginning of the film is usually what you expect from McConaughey. Yet, as the story progresses, his character becomes more three-dimensional. It is his portrayal that makes this film a vehicle of support for criminal defense attorneys anywhere. Defense attorneys are held to the same standard of criminal justice as prosecutors, no matter what or who they defend. This form of legal standard makes the job of a criminal defense attorney twice as interesting and complicated in terms of compromising ethics, and this is what gives this film the edge.
In another twist of courtroom drama, the two witnesses called in to testify, Corliss (Shea Whigham), and Charles Talbot (Eric Etebari), provide entertaining glimpses into characters possibly typical in the mainstream public. Shea Whigham plays a prison snitch bent on getting favors for himself, and he aces his role with defined stupidity as Corliss. Eric Etebari, as the suave businessman who insinuates his sexual prowess when testifying about the victim, simply captivates with his playful ego-centrism. These two performances provide brief moments of lightness in the sea of heavy drama.
Director Brad Furman (The Take, 2007) put together an impressive cast in this thriller. This includes Josh Lucas (the prosecutor), John Leguizamo (the pawn shop dealer), Francis Fisher (the defendant’s mother), Bob Gunton (the family lawyer), Bryan Cranston (the detective), and Margarita Levieva as the victim. Another player worth mentioning is Katherine Moennig (the jailhouse client), who previously appeared in a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode (Fallacy) as a pre-op transgender involved in a crime.
The film sufficiently plays out the suspense, although, like in real life, it turns into a courtroom piece for a long period. It is, however, heartfelt as it progresses and the twists it takes keeps you on the edge of your seat. Matthew McConaughey impressively delivered this time around.