The Lincoln Lawyer was the first film in the revival of Matthew McConaughey’s career after a lengthy slump stretching back to the early 2000’s, and what a banger of a pseudo courtroom drama it turned out to be. Based on the series of novels by Michael Connelly which focus on slick, morally untethered defence attorney Mick Haller (played to perfection by Matt), director Brad Furman whips up an enjoyable, razor sharp yet laid back LA crime saga that’s smart, re-watchable and competently staged, not to mention stuffed to the roof with great actors. Haller is something of a renegade lawyer who operates smoothly from the leather interior of his Lincoln town car, driven by trusty chauffeur Earl (the always awesome Lawrence Mason). Mick is ice cool and seldom bothered by the legal atrocities he commits, until one case follows him home and digs up a tormented conscience he never knew he had. Hired to defend a rich brat (Ryan Phillipe) accused of murdering a call girl, events take a turn for the unpredictable as older crimes are dug up, double crosses are laid bare and everyone’s life starts to unravel. It’s a deliciously constructed story with twists and payoffs galore, as well as one hell of an arc for McConaughey to flesh out in the kind of desperate, lone wolf role that mirrors the dark side of his idealistic lawyer in Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. Let’s talk supporting cast: Marisa Tomei is sexy and easygoing as Mick’s ex wife and rival, Bryan Cranston simmers on low burn as a nasty detective, William H. Macy does a lively turn as his PI buddy, plus excellent work from Frances Fisher, Shea Wigham, John Leguizamo, Bob Gunton, Bob Gunton, Pell James, Katherine Moennig and the great Michael Paré as a resentful cop who proves to be quite useful later on. There’s a dark side to the story too that I appreciated, in the fact that not every wrong is righted, or at least fully, a sad fact that can be seen in an unfortunate character played by Michael Pena, but indicative of life’s brutal realities, something Hollywood sometimes tries to smother. One of the great courtroom films out there, a gem in McConaughey’s career and just a damn fine time at the movies.
A prevailing thought while viewing The Watcher was that Keanu Reeves is an odd choice to play a lone wolf serial killer, but he actually suits it pretty well. The film itself is muddy and middle of the road, pitting haggard big city cop James Spader against Reeves’s beast who takes extreme pleasure in taunting him at every turn. This gets so bad that poor Spader has a breakdown, loses all hope and moves to a different city half across the country. Reeves just can’t seem to quit the game though, and follows him right over there for more murderous shenanigans. It’s your classic 90’s cop vs. killer tale, and for the most part it’s not bad. The bleak, nocturnal nightscapes help Reeves creep around and nab his victims as well as provide an oppressive urban atmosphere. It’s nice to see casting like this as far as the villain is concerned; so often these killers are played by eccentric, freaky looking character actors or go-to antagonist players, but by casting a golden boy leading man like Keanu they’ve upturned the trend and made the character more striking. Also, a chiselled babe like him is far more likely to believably lure off girls than some wild eyed, Gary Busey type you’d usually find here. Points for that too. The additional players add class, including Chris Ellis, Ernie Hudson and Marisa Tomei. This one won’t go down in history simply because it’s in dime-a-dozen territory. There’s just too too many cop/killer films from back then, and if one of them doesn’t have a key quality to make it stick and endure, it’ll fade into obscurity, like Reeves receding back into the inky night after a fresh kill. It’s not bad in itself though, if mostly just for him and the urban ambience he stalks through.
Four Rooms is an anthology film of sorts, segmented into four episodes, two of which are pretty inspired as they just happened to be helmed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. The other two outings… well, let’s just say they kind of bring the whole film down. As solid as Robert and Quentin’s efforts are, they’re two quarters of a whole that needs to be engaging all the time to work as a cohesive package, and sadly that’s not the case. These four tales all take place in one hectic and seedy L.A. hotel, in various rooms that showcase a host of troubled weirdos just trying to get through the night. This quartet of nocturnal misadventures is tied together by one central character, Ted The Bellhop (a peppy Tim Roth). In the first, which is also the weakest, a goofy coven of witches carry out some asinine ritual. This is a well casted bit as we see the likes of Madonna, Ioan Skye, Valeria Golino, Lilli Taylor and Alicia Witt, but the tone comes off as grade school level shenanigans and there’s many a cringe to be had. The second is an oddly placed noirish bit that finds Ted caught between an unhinged gun wielding whacko (If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, David Proval is criminally underrated) and his femme fatale wife (Jennifer Beals). This one isn’t as awful as the first, yet feels a little off putting and claustrophobic. The third sees Robert Rodriguez step up to bat with ‘The Misbehavers’ a riotous black comedy concerning an upper class couple (Antonio Banderas and Tamlyn Tomita) who leave Ted in charge of their troublemaker kids for the night as they go out dancing. Anything can and does go wrong here, as the youngsters get into all kinds of shit including finding a half decomposed hooker (Patricia Vonne) stuffed in a mattress. Rodriguez shows comedic flair in fits and starts in the pulpy action side of his oeuvre, but here he’s purely having fun and the result is a sleazy hoot of a good time. The fourth and best is by Tarantino, and as such is mostly talking. But what talking it is; Ted stumbles into the penthouse suite which is home to a string out Hollywood film crew, and they’ve decided to place a dangerous bet that involves bodily dismemberment. Quentin is usually a fairly awful actor, but he’s not bad here as the motor mouthed ringleader of this insane posse, while Paul Calderon, Marisa Tomei and a very stressed out Bruce Willis chime in as well. This segment is pure gold, with an abrupt, trademark Tarantino payoff that leaves you chuckling darkly. All kinds of folks have cameos, so watch for the recently disgraced, supremely ugly Kathy Griffin, Lawrence Bender, Salma Hayek and others. There’s always stronger and weaker entries in an anthology film, competition is par for the course. This one has quite the ups and downs though, and would have been far better off being just a Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature, but oh well.
In The Bedroom is tough cinema, packed with the kind of substance and human drama that often drives casual viewers away, their psyches scorched by the lack of generic plotting and warm, fuzzy story arcs. To those who actively seek out realism, heartbreaking emotion and films which probe the complex corners of the human soul for answers that weigh heavier in your thoughts than the questions, this one is a treat. It lulls you in with an opening montage of summer romance, giving you no context of the challenging character arcs to come. We begin with Frank (Nick Stahl) a man barely out of his teens, in the midst of a passionate fling with Natalie (a fantastic Marisa Tomei), a woman far older than him who has two kids and a troublesome ex husband (William Mapother). Frank’s parents differ on their opinions as far as his relationship goes. His no nonsense mother (Sissy Spacek), calmly disapproves, while his loving father (Tom Wilkinson) encourages simply by sitting back and going along with it. Then, out of nowhere, the plot takes a sharp turn into tragedy. Frank is killed in a struggle involving the volatile ex husband, leaving everyone behind to grieve. This film isn’t content with a simple, standard grieving process. It insists on holding a steady, nonjudgmental gaze upon the parents, and the agonizing state they are left in. The killer is released on extended bail. The mother is torn apart knowing he is out there. The father actively downplays the devastation simply because he isn’t capable of letting out what’s inside him, twisting him in silent despair every moment of every day. Wilkinson is emotional dynamite, like a bleak cloud with flashes of sorrowful lightning beneath, a time bomb of implosive sadness. Spacek carries herself magnificently, especially in a third act verbal showdown with Tom that leaves you gutted and stunned. These two play their roles with uncanny precision, every movement and mannerism a roadmap leading straight to the core emotion, and shellshock of the tragedy, still being absorbed by their characters with every frame we see. It’s a brave script for any group to undertake, and one which you must go into utterly prepared or you will either fall short of telling the story to its potential, or be consumed and disarmed by it, and arrive with a finished product with a tone deaf mentality. Not this one. Every aspect is treated with care, attention and focus by all involved, miraculously pulling this hefty piece off without a hitch. It’s often a struggle to sit through films that don’t make you feel all that great, films that tear off the superficial cloth that much of cinema is cut from, delving beneath for an unwavering look at what really goes on in this world of ours, be it large scale or intimate. It’s important to experience this occasionally though, as it can often teach you valuble truths and awaken parts of your perception that lie dormant during a lot of other movies. This one won’t hold your hand and provide an emotional blueprint for you to follow, but in being let off the leash, the experience may just be more rewarding.