“Goliath” — A New Amazon Prime Winner

 

goliath

This is a bingeworthy new eight-episode series from Amazon. “Goliath” characters are deeply flawed and yet vividly human and at least, to some extent, understandable. “Goliath” is extraordinary television.

Part film noir, part legal drama similar to “Good Wife” or “Law and Order”, with a bit of “Damages” and “House of Cards” thrown in, “Goliath” tells the story of a derelict, drunken grizzled lawyer, Billy McBride (played by Billy Bob Thornton in a star turn).   McBride was once a leading legal mind who, with Donald Cooperman (the haunting William Hurt in one of the best roles of his career) had started one of the most powerful law firms in Los Angeles. Now Billy McBride is a bottom-feeder taking on a case which turns out to be against Cooperman. Think of the movie “Lincoln Lawyer” (see my April 5, 2011 review).

Billy McBride’s former law firm still bears his name and the opposing counsel at Cooperman-McBride are simply over-the-top in their ferocity and callous pursuit of victory. Donald Cooperman is a nightmare of Shakespearean proportions who monitors all legal proceedings like a voyeur through his complex closed circuit surveillance system. His legal staff pursue the case while he watches as if it were a gladiator fight.

Hurt’s Cooperman is unforgettable, cunning and unforgivable. Thornton’s grizzled McBride is evenly matched to battle Cooperman in court. [A bit more backstory on some of the key players would have been welcomed.]

In addition to the startling cast (which includes supporting roles by the superb Maria Bello and Molly Parker)  the script for “Goliath” is masterfully written by David E. Kelley (of “Ally McBeal” and “Boston Legal” fame).   The cinematography lends a a very strong visual identity to downtown LA, Santa Monica, and Venice, particularly with the driving scenes and time- lapse shots

But perhaps the most idiosyncratic of the episodes in the “Goliath” series is the last minute of the last episode. It is one of the most ambiguous I have ever seen in a movie or have read in a novel. “Goliath” left me wondering and wanting more. There are too many unanswered questions and too many characters with unresolved futures. I must see a second season of “Goliath”. Amazon is currently in negotiations for giving us more!

“Lincoln Lawyer”–More Than an Ambulance Chase

We saw the movie “Lincoln Lawyer” a couple of days ago, and it was a highly engaging–not brilliant–courtroom thriller of a movie in the “Grisham” style. Think the best of the courtroom dramas of the recent past: “Fracture” meets “Presumed Innocent”, for example. This film noir, based on a book written by Michael Connelly, is pure entertainment–with a few twists to keep it original and not the same old courtroom drama we’ve seen done well and also done poorly. Michael “Mick” Haller (Matthew McConaughey in one of his very best performances since “North Star” and “A Time to Kill”) is a slick, charismatic Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln Town Car sedan–hence, the name “Lincoln Lawyer”.

Having spent most of his career defending down-and-out street criminals, Mick unexpectedly is recommended for the lucrative assignment of representing Louis Roulet (played chillingly by Ryan Phillippe), a spoiled Beverly Hills playboy who is accused of attempted murder. Roulet has been accused of brutally beating a young prostitute he met in a bar. Mick senses there is something incredible about this windfall. If Roulet has unlimited funds and really is innocent, why is he hiring a guy like him, who works out of the back seat of a car? The lawyer has spent all his professional life afraid that he wouldn’t recognize innocence if it stood right in front of him, a caveat from his father. He wonders if he could be staring into the face of evil, not innocence, and is terrified that he doesn’t know the difference.

Fueled by McConaughey’s and Philippe’s bravura, career-reshaping performances, the supporting cast sustains the audience’s attention: Marisa Tomei as Mick’s ex-wife and fellow attorney, Frances Fisher as Roulet’s intimidating mother, and especially William H. Macy, as Mick’s friend and loyal but offbeat private investigator.

McConaughey has brilliantly played the hard-edged law officer before, either as a sheriff or a lawyer with Southern overtones. Returning to that type of role in “Lincoln Lawyer” may indicate that he is heading for a highly acclaimed “Paul Newman”-type of second act (as exemplified by Newman’s Academy Award-nominated performance as a marginal lawyer in “The Verdict”). He effortlessly maneuvers between charm and sleaze as Mick Haller, yet retains some basic human scruples, which will allow him to save his soul. This movie is a delicious two hours’ entertainment, not just another potboiler of ambulance chasers–you won’t be disappointed!