Matthew McConaughey finally gets a chance to act in an entertaining thriller and contribute more than a good smile and bare chest. Playing Mick Haller, a criminal defense attorney who works out of the back of his Lincoln Continental, he gets a chance to defend someone other than the guttersnipe criminals he’s had as clients to date. Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) is a rich man’s son accused of brutally killing a prostitute. Mick soon finds that there’s more to meet the eye here, and is placed in the position of defending a man who is manipulating him.
The film has a terrific cast. In addition to the two principals, McConaughey and Phillippe, it includes Oscar®-winner Marisa Tomei and Oscar®-nominee William H. Macy (who plays a scruffy, long-haired P.I.), although both have minor roles which minimizes and wastes their exceptional talents.
There are also some fine supporting performances. One that stands out is Bryan Cranston, who is a hard-boiled homicide detective who doesn’t like Mick and seems out to get him. Josh Lucas plays Mick’s legal opponent, prosecutor Ted Minton. Lucas was dealt a bad hand here because his character could have been much more aggressive. That seems to be more a fault of the script (John Romano) and the direction (Brad Furman) than Lucas. In addition, the film shows a judge (Reggie Baker) who is scrupulously fair. Anybody who has had the misfortune to have to appear in Los Angeles Superior Court will find this portrayal fantasy.
Most of Connelly’s books are set in Los Angeles, which figures because before becoming a world-famous novelist, he was a criminal beat writer for a local newspaper. As a result there are scenes of the various aspects of the city, from the Trump Golf Course in Palos Verdes, with its spectacular panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, to gritty Inglewood. McConaughey says, “This is not the sunny, ritzy LA that we’re showing. It’s hot, humid, dusty, dirty and sometimes trashy.”
Although Connelly was apparently satisfied with the script, even though this is a fine, entertaining movie, I didn’t think it was a good as the book.
Run time 106 minutes.
OK for children.
This starts out like My Dinner with Andre (1981), morphs into Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), and ends up more like the quintessential French Art film, the inscrutable Last Year at Marienbad (1961). It’s a convoluted film about one day in the life of two people, Juliette Binoche and William Shimell (who, in real life, is one of Britain’s most accomplished baritones), who meet in Tuscany, where he’s giving a lecture on a book he wrote that didn’t sell in his native England but has been successful in Italy. She is an attendee who wants him to sign several of the books she bought.
Telling what happens would do a disservice to the viewer because one must live this film as it progresses. If you know what it’s about when you go into it, it will lose much of its effectiveness. I found myself thinking about it long after it was over.
The main problem with the film is the final twenty minutes that seems more like a day. It just slows down so much that I was looking at my watch more than the screen, wishing it to end. There are important things that happen during those 20 minutes, but they could have been handled with much better pace by director Abbas Kiarostami, who was born in Iran in 1940.
One thing that bothered me (other than the title) was the bra Binoche wears throughout the film. It’s ugly and she’s dressed trashily. Her bra is always showing. It doesn’t go with the sun dress she’s wearing and there is no continuity in the way the bra and the dress show in scene after scene. They are constantly different, even when going from one reverse to another and back again. When she finally takes it off near the end of the film, she looks much better (no jokes, please). But why she would dress like that is undoubtedly a part of the inscrutability of the film. The cinematography is also part of the mystery, many scenes showing mirrored reflections in the background.
Binoche is an accomplished actress and carries off the role with aplomb. What’s surprising is the quality of Shimell’s performance. He keeps up with Binoche and is in her league as an actor.
The film is as much about reality and the perception of reality as it is about a fledgling love affair happening in a single day. In French, Italian, but mostly English.