By Lauren DuBois 

Who knew wearing a shirt would be a good choice for Matthew McConaughey?

In the new legal drama, based off the book by Michael Connelly, McConaughey plays Mick Haller, a Los Angeles defense attorney who represents the “scumbags” of society, all from the backseat of his Lincoln, hustling his way through clever back alley deals that get his prostitute and motorcycle gang clients off the hook, even as prosecutors and cops see him as a dirt bag for freeing the very people they want to lock away.

After a bail bondsman (John Leguizamo) hooks Mick up with a spoiled and wealthy client, Louis Roulet (Ryan Philippe), who claims innocence after he is locked up on charges of assaulting a young woman he followed home from a bar. Mick is a bit skeptical of Roulet’s story that he was set up, but takes him on as a client because he wonders if Roulet is that all-too-rare truly innocent guy. As the case continues on however, new revelations in the investigation start to complicate things.

The story, which never fails to add a new twist or turn in its two-hour runtime, manages to keep the audience on the edges of their seats, as Roulet and his alleged victim are painted in entirely different lights, connections are made between this case and one from Mick’s past, and Mick has run-ins with his not-so-ex-wife, prosecutor Maggie (Marisa Tomei).

Most of the acting is superb in the film, but perhaps the large number of big meal-ticket names does begin to hurt the smaller guys after a while. McConaughey does a fantastic job as Haller, emoting from concern and fear at parts, to anger, regret, and outrage and revenge seamlessly. The role does him much more justice than his often shirtless and care-free romantic comedy roles of the past decade. Philippe also does a good job of playing the spoiled rich kid, and manages to use his pretty-boy looks to an extent where it becomes just believable that there is a vicious sicko lurking underneath the surface. Tomei as Maggie is a wonderful treat because she actually gets to play a woman more her own age, a breath of fresh air if there ever was one.

William H. Macy as Mick’s investigator Frank is a refreshing role with a bit of a comedic edge, but he is dispensed of a bit early, which forces him to fade a little into the background. Josh Lucas, as the attorney who goes up against Mick in the courtroom, unfortunately fades as his character begins to appear more spineless than a tough prosecutor. And Michael Peña as a former client of Mick’s is in and out of the movie so fast, that if it weren’t for the pivotal role he plays, he would just be insignificant.

Overall, the film is superb, especially in relation to much of what the box office has offered so far in 2011. It manages to keep its audience enthralled throughout, and does a solid job of selling a story that could easily have gone the way of one of the many courtroom crime dramas on TV and been too cheesy and contrived to be entirely believable.  Hopefully, McConaughey makes more returns to the screen in roles of this caliber, because while it would certainly be a shame to lose his bare chest all the time, it would be much more of a shame for him to go back to cheesy rom-com obscurity.