Michael Connelly and Mickey Haller

For some reason — maybe because I’ve seen previews for the new “Conan the Barbarian” movie — I’ve been thinking about when I met Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1982, when he was promoting the original “Conan” movie.

But then I watched the movie adaptation of Michael Connelly’s “The Lincoln Lawyer” tonight and decided that Arnold could wait.

The movie version, out on DVD, features Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller, the Los Angeles lawyer protagonist of Connelly’s book. The title comes from the defense attorney’s practice of maintaining office hours from the backseat of a Lincoln piloted around LA by Haller’s driver. The rolling legal suite is a cool, only-in-LA idea that demonstrates Connelly’s knack for nice character touches.

The movie’s pretty good. McConaughey isn’t necessarily who I pictured when I imagined Mick Haller, the canny attorney with a clear sense of right and wrong and an even clearer sense of what a jury will believe. However, McConaughey does a nice job with the role, which is a more internal, instinctive hero than most you’ll find in movies these days.

But the movie, entertaining as it is, doesn’t compare to Connelly’s books. The former LA newspaper reporter has written about two dozen books in the past 20 years. Several are about Haller. Most are about Harry Bosch, a veteran cop with more than a few dark shadings to his personality. Both characters are driven by a sense of justice, even if they approach that ideal from different paths at times.

The movie can’t capture the best part about Connelly’s characters: Their thoughts, their obsessions, their preconceived notions that they sometimes realize they must overcome. Bosch in particular is such a hardcase he would be very nearly unlikable if he really existed and you met him in person. But Connelly makes Bosch human and relatable because he lets us into his head. We see LA’s murder victims through Bosch’s eyes and feel his outrage at the very idea their deaths might go unpunished.

Haller is a more easygoing character than Bosch but also more clever. When confronted with a client who is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, he doesn’t throw up his hands and walk away. But he does ensure that justice is done.

In an interview on the DVD, Connelly echoes something Stephen King has said. He’s not so worried about movie versions of his work getting the characters wrong and messing up the storylines because the books are right there, on the shelf, uncompromised and waiting. Not unlike his characters.

One more thing: I haven’t been to LA in what’s going on 20 years now. But the city that Connelly and Robert Crais, in his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike books, portray is the one that I knew, from the precarious houses on hillsides to the rambling concrete highways. If you’ve ever been to LA and want to recapture it or have never been and want to know what it’s like, Connelly’s books give you a view from the backseat of Haller’s Lincoln.

Okay. Soon we’ll come back to the topic of Arnold and the most lasting impression he made on me: His height.


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