Thursday, October 6, 2011

Unsuitable Fellows

Since everything is so macho in New Zealand at the moment, I thought I’d take a look at two DVD thrillers.

The Lincoln Lawyer stars Matthew McConaughey as L.A. defence attorney Mick Haller who keeps people out of jail, mostly the innocent (his personalised number-plate is NTGUILTY) but not entirely.

In one case he’s actually got an innocent man into prison. That the man is Hispanic might say quite a lot about justice in that neck of the woods.

Coming into his galaxy is trouble in the guise of baby-faced millionaire estate agent Louis Roulet (Ryan Philippe). It’s the man’s profession that should have got Haller’s alarm bells ringing, but then he can’t turn down a client either.

Based on the eponymous Michael Connolly thriller, this is not a study on why the killer does what he (or she) does, it’s more about how slick Haller is at getting himself out of a tight situation.

Supported by the ever watchable Marisa Tomei as his ex-wife – she’s a prosecutor – and mother of their child, and the wonderfully craggy William H Macey, McConaughey doesn’t quite pull off the role.

This is because he looks a lot like Paul Newman but without the determined lower jaw and the wardrobe lady insists on dressing him in a suit that emphasises his shortness.

That is debut director Brad Furman’s fault in allowing bad angles and full-length shots to undermine his star, who is a very attractive man - from the waist up.

But at least this ex-music video director gets the retro opening sequence right with Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City by Bobby Bland. It‘s the kind of song and sequence that promises much, like the beginning of To Live and Die in L.A., which does deliver.

But if your film is only memorable for its title sequence you’re in trouble.


The Hit List, starring Cuba Gooding Jr, also has a retro opening sequence, but it looks like - and is as dated as – an old James Bond flick's. Its accompanying song, 47 Ways to Die, is also pretty forgettable.

In fact, the only cliché the entire movie avoids – and it’s also at the beginning of the film - is the one of someone sitting up directly from a nightmare.

Gooding’s Jonas is obviously a troubled man, but he’s also fighting a wardrobe lady. She too will emphasise his shortness – and the fact that he’s growing a little sideways. This is not good.

But she was obviously trying to echo Tom Cruise’s slick grey number in Collateral, since it’s a similar kind of story and, again, it’s the director’s fault.

William Kaufman blows things further by casting Cole Hauser as the man who’s getting royally screwed by everyone and might therefore want them dead: the man evokes no sympathy whatsoever.

That he can still talk straight after five full glasses of Jack Daniel’s is also his director’s fault, just like spilling coffee on to his groin and ending up with a messy shirt top is.

Gooding does his best to elevate his role of an avenging angel, but there’s too much militating against him, even though he has one or two good lines like "the trigger's like a fast-forward button. I just skip to the end credits of other people's lives."

One wonders, though, having won an Oscar for best supporting actor in Jerry Maguire and effectively playing in B-grade movies ever since, how much subtext there is when he says somewhat bitterly: “Fame doesn’t make you invincible.”

Neil Sonnekus

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