For nearly 20 years Matthew McConaughey has under-achieved. The few good films he’s been in have been mostly ensembles (Dazed and Confused, U-571, We Are Marshall, Tropic Thunder) while many of his top-billed or costarring vehicles have been romantic dogshit, especially over the last decade. Now comes The Lincoln Lawyer (Lionsgate, 3.18), the first completely decent, above-average film McConaughey has carried all on his own. By his standards that’s close to a triumph.

Lawyer doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s basically a high-intrigue trial drama with an unusual lead character — McConaughey’s Mickey Haller, a bottom-feeding LA criminal attorney who operates out of his gas-guzzler. The story is about Haller being hired by a big-money client and soon after finding himself in a difficult ethical spot. It’s not quite as surprising or jolting as Primal Fear, the 1996 Richard Gere-Edward Norton courtroom thriller that it resembles somewhat. So don’t go expecting a double-A powerhouse thing. But it moves along at a good pace and never bores and satisfies with the usual twists and turns and fake-outs and sharp dialogue.

It almost feels like a two-hour pilot for an HBO series about Haller. Which I would watch, by the way.

The Lincoln Lawyer has been very ably directed by Brad Furman from a script by John Romano, based on Michael Connelly‘s novel of the same name. The costarring roles are well-written, and very persuasively performed by Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, Michaela Conlin, Josh Lucas, Laurence Mason, Frances Fisher, John Leguizamo and Michael Pena.