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.
If Tales From The Crypt were set in the Deep South with more of a pulp crime vibe, you’d get Wayne Kramer’s Pawn Shop Chronicles, a sweaty, sleazy anthology mixup with one legendary ensemble cast and a deliberative effort to disturb the audience at every turn. Segmented into three zany outings, each one connected to a shady pawn shop run by Vincent D’Onofrio and Chi McBride, by a different specific item each time. In the first it’s a shotgun which passes through a few different meth addled hands, as two strung out junkies (Paul Walker and Lukas Haas) foolishly try to rob their cook/dealer (Norman Reedus, but it could have been anyone because you literally never see his face). This is one grease-ball comedy of errors, as these two morons are way too high to actually get anything done, their feverish efforts culminating in a noisy Mexican standoff, an enjoyable bit especially to see Walker playing way against type. The second story is the most perversely extreme, as we see Matt Dillon and his new bride buying a wedding ring from the very same shop. Suddenly he recognizes another ring that belonged to his missing ex wife and gets all determined to track her down. This leads him to the home of clean cut yuppie Elijah Wood, who of course is anything but innocent and one ups his depraved character in Sin City, no easy task if you’ve seen that film. Speaking of one upping, director Kramer seems to be trying to outdo himself and churn out a story more sickening than the infamous ‘Hansel and Gretel’ sequence in his crime masterpiece Running Scared. While not quite as effective as that, this midsection will make many squirm and have you nervously eyeing both the door and the spot on the seat in front of you where a barf bag should be. The third and silliest tale sees Brendan Fraser as a sad-sack Elvis impersonator who can’t hold down a gig. It’s odd because this sequence is sort of pleasant even, Fraser being his usual affable self makes you feel vaguely comforted after the heinous happenings in the previous Matt Dillon bit. I wish I could rave about this flick, but there’s a few inconsistencies; some of the writing is shallow and disengaged, and in other spots it tries to hard to be shocking, while in Running Scared, for example, that just came organically somehow. However, it’s never short on entertainment value and you certainly won’t forget it anytime soon after. Plus there’s even more actors in the impressive lineup including DJ Qualls, Pell James, Kevin Rankin, Sam Jennings, Matt O Leary, Michael Cudlitz, Ashlee Simpson and Thomas Jane as a mysterious cowboy apparition. The very concept of a southern themed, vaguely horror anthology set around a pawn shop is brilliant though, and this almost seems ripe for an episodic streaming pickup, via Netflix or the like.
David Fincher’s Zodiac is the finest film he has ever brought us, and one of the most gut churning documentations of a serial killer’s crimes ever put on celluloid. Fincher has no interest in fitting his narrative into the Hollywood box or sifting through the details of the real life crimes to remove anything that doesn’t follow established formula. He plumbs the vast case files and sticks rigidly to detail, clinging to ambiguity the whole way through and welcoming the eerie lack of resolution we arrive at with open arms. That kind of diligence to true life events is far more scary than any generic, assembly line plot turns twisted into stale shape by the writer (and studio breathing down their neck, no doubt). No, Fincher sticks to the chilling details religiously, starkly recreating every revelation in the Zodiac killer case with the kind of patience and second nature style of direction that leads to huge atmospheric payoff and a hovering sense of unease that continues to make the film as effective today as the day it was released. A massive troupe of actors are employed to portray the various cops, journalists, victims and pursuers involved with the killer during the 1970’s in San Francisco, the film unfolding in episodic form and giving each performer their due, right down to the juicy cameos and bit parts. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Rob Graysmith, a news reporter who becomes intrigued and eventually obsessed with the cryptic puzzles which the Zodiac taunts the bay area with by sending them in to the paper. Mark Ruffalo is Charlie Toschi, dogged police investigator who is consumed by the hunt. The third leg of the acting tripod is Robert Downey Jr as Paul Avery, another journalist who takes the failure in capturing the killer a little harder than those around him. The film dances eerily along a true crime path populated by many people who veered in and out of the killers path including talk show host Melvin Belli (a sly Brian Cox) , another intrepid cop (Anthony Edwards), his superior officer (Dermot Mulroney) and so many more. For such an expansive and complicated story it’s all rather easy to keep track if, mainly thanks to Fincher’s hypnotic and very concise direction, grabbing you like a noose, tightening and then letting you go just when you feel like you have some answers. While most of the film examines the analytical nature of the investigation, there are a few scenes which focus on the killings themselves and let me tell you they are some of the most hair raising stuff you will ever see. The horror comes from the trapped animal look in the victims eyes as they try rationalize the inevitability, with Fincher forcing you to accept the reality of such acts. One sequence set near a riverbank veers into nightmare mode. Every stab is felt by the viewer, every bit of empathy directed to the victims and every ounce of fear felt alongside them. It can’t quite be classified as horror outright, but there are scenes that dance circles around the best in the genre, and are the most disturbing things to climb from the crevice of Fincher’s work. They’re nestled in a patient bog of studious detective work, blind speculation and frustrating herrings, which make them scarier than hell when they do show up out of nowhere. Adding to the already epic cast are Jimmi Simpson, Chloe Sevigny, Elias Koteas, John Carroll Lynch, Donal Logue, Pell James, Philip Baker Hall, John Terry, Zach Grenier and a brief cameo from Clea Duvall. I think the reason the film works so well and stands way above the grasp of so many other thrillers like it is because of its steadfast resolve to tell you exactly what happened, urge you to wonder what the missing pieces might reveal should they ever come to light, and deeply unsettle you with the fear of the undiscovered, something which never fails to ignite both curiosity and dread in us human beings.