Gray knights. That’s what is predominant in entertainment these days. We’ve heard all the white knight stories and they’re great. But, they simply aren’t true. The white knight isn’t human and while that the way he lives might be something for us to aspire to, it’s not realistic. It’s not human. It’s not real. Some part of our minds knows this and on that base bestial level we reject the idea of a white knight.
The Lincoln Lawyer is not a white knight. He’s a man who believes in justice, who believes in the justice system. A valuable part of the U.S. justice system is the belief that everyone deserves a fair trial. For that possibility to exist, there must be people who are willing to give a viable defense to people who may or even are guilty of the crime they’re being accused of.
The reason for that need for a defense attorney comes from the idea that the U.S. would rather let a guilty man go free than put an innocent man in jail. If the U.S. is going to error, it’s on the side of freedom. That’s noble, even if it’s only an ideal.
I’m not going to address the issues in the current implementation of the court system in the U.S. here. It’s a long argument with many sides and this is a movie review.
In order to have that justice, some people have to be willing to get dirty, to sleep at night knowing that they helped a guilty man go free so we can have a justice system. That’s not a white knight. It’s not a black knight. It’s a gray knight. I like that.
The game Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy role-playing game. It’s where the player gets to choose to be a wizard, a warrior, a thief, a healer, etc. Within each class is what’s called alignment. There’s Good, and there’s Evil. Each moral alignment has three sub-classes: Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic. Lawful good is the white knight, where white is the local laws. Neutral Good is the generally following good practices, helping the poor, standing up for the weak, that kind of thing. Chaotic Good is like lawful good but the good is defined not by the state but by the conscience.
I like The Lincoln Lawyer because he’s chaotic good. I’m chaotic good. His highest good is the ideals of the justice system, not the letter of the law, but the heart of it. If that means he has to break some of the letters, well, that’s just what’s got to happen.
There’s an amazing movie about a hacker named Aaron Swartz called The Internet’s Own Boy. Aaron was a computer prodigy, helping to forge the very foundations of the way the current Web works. He believed that information should be free. He took that belief and broke some laws and infringed on the legal rights of some very rich, very powerful people. The FBI tormented Swartz, breaking his spirit until Aaron killed himself.
The Internet’s Own Boy starts with a quote by Thoreau, “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we succeed, or shall we transgress them at once.”
It’s not a question that’s explicit in The Lincoln Lawyer, but it is a question the gray knight must ask. What place does the law have in society? What about individual laws? What is the difference between the heart of the law and its implementation? Where do I stand in that difference?
Some people may not like the existence of the gray knight, but it would be unwise to acknowledge that we don’t need such people in our society. I’m one of those rare people who believe that there is always a right answer. I believe that from high up things look black and white but that the closer you get, the lines become gray. Most people stop there. But if we’re willing to keep zooming in, keep looking closer, we’ll see that the colors once again become clearly defined. That’s just physics. There are clear lines in all light, and in all things. If that weren’t true, there wouldn’t be rainbows.
The Lincoln Lawyer shows us the gray, at first glance. It shows us a muddy, dark, gritty society, of prostitutes and bikers and druggies. Even there, amidst the darkness there is truth and there is right and there is a right thing to do. The Lincoln Lawyer does it. It takes us through the mud and we are cleaner and better for having made the journey.