Saturday, April 30, 2011

At the Movies - Lincoln Lawyer, Source Code

The Lincoln Lawyer. Michael Connelly must be breathing a sigh of relief right about now. Unless I missed a positive review somewhere, the only previous adaptation of a Connelly novel, “Blood Work,” was universally reviled, even though living American legend Clint Eastwood directed and starred in it. I liked the book so much that I decided to skip the movie once the initial returns came in. It must have been bad, because even Connelly himself made jokes about it in some of the novels that followed.

“The Lincoln Lawyer,” on the other hand, is an outstanding adaptation, with a sharp screenplay, good acting, and a vibe that makes it feel a little bit like a 70s-era crime thriller. For those not familiar with the book, Michael (Mickey) Haller is “the Lincoln lawyer,” called that because he does most of his office work in the back seat of a Lincoln Continental. He’s one of those lawyers who always seems to skirt the bounds of ethics and propriety, but is smarter than most people give him credit for. His ex-wife, Maggie “McFierce” McPherson, is an attorney in the district attorney’s office.

Matthew McConaughey is a little younger than I had pictured Mickey Haller to be, but this is probably the best acting he’s done since… “Contact?” And that was quite a while ago. Marisa Tomei is great as Maggie, and Ryan Phillipe is effective as the pretty-boy client that you know is bad news from the moment you lay eyes on him. And in case you weren’t sure, the movie casts Bob Gunton as his family’s attorney, and when see Gunton, you know that evil can’t be far behind. Also good is a disheveled William H. Macy as Haller’s private investigator, and Frances Fisher makes a delightfully evil matriarch.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to go into too much detail on the plot without spoiling all the fun, but it boils down to the client’s family tricking Haller into taking the case, and then Haller trying to figure out how to bring his client to justice without losing his law license in the process. The whole enterprise may require a bit of belief suspension, but it’s a fun ride. Oh yeah – and the soundtrack is great, too.

Source Code. If Duncan Jones keeps this up, people are going to start calling David Bowie “Duncan Jones’ father” instead of the other way around. Jones follows up his magnificent debut, “Moon,” with another mind-bending experience that rewards careful viewing.

The movie begins with Jake Gyllenhaal finding himself on a train, having no idea how he got there, and having no idea who the woman is that is sitting across from him and speaking to him as if they were friends (or even lovers). Eight disorienting minutes later, the train is engulfed in a fiery explosion, and everyone on board is killed. When Gyllenhaal awakes, he is encased in what could be a tomb, or an interstellar pod. The soothing voice of a uniformed woman on a viewing screen brings him back to reality, and the reality is that he – a helicopter pilot in the Afghan conflict – is part of a project that allows him to be projected into the last 8 minutes of the life of a man on the train. His assignment – find out who brought the bomb on the train, because whoever it was, they’re intending to detonate a dirty nuclear bomb in Chicago, perhaps at any minute.

And so – again and again, the pilot – Colter Stevens – is inserted into the “source code” of what occurred, and each time he gets a little further in his quest to determine who the culprit is. Along the way, he gets the notion that perhaps he can change history – save the people on the train – despite being told that isn’t possible. And more, I should not say for fear of spoiling the best parts of the movie.

As the pilot, Gyllenhaal is a credible action star with depth. As the woman on the train, Michelle Monaghan is good, even though her part is little more than a plot device designed to generate sympathy and sadness from the audience. Vera Farmiga is predictably strong as the God-like figure on the screen, and Jeffrey Wright is very good as the scientist who you want to believe developed this whole enterprise to do good, but who twitches a little bit too much to be trustworthy.

It may not be quite as good as “Moon,” but it’s further proof that for Duncan Jones, the future is limitless.

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