Review: Law Abiding Citizen

October 15, 2009 | Law Abiding Citizen Reviews

PLOT: Ten years after his wife and daughter are killed during a home invasion, a seemingly mild mannered inventor, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) brutally kills the two men involved in the crime. He’s quickly arrested for the crime, but this turns out to just be the beginning of his vengeance, as Shelton is out to get not only the murderers, but everyone involved in the prosecution and defense of his case. Shelton feels the justice system failed the memory of his murdered family, by allowing one of the murderers to go free thanks to a plea bargain instigated by the Assistant D.A, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx). Despite being incarcerated, Shelton is still able to orchestrate his violent plan, leaving Rice to put together the pieces before he becomes Shelton’s next victim.

REVIEW: LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is the latest film from director F. Gary Gray, who I’ve always thought was a fairly decent journeyman director. Eleven years ago, he directed another solid thriller, THE NEGOTIATOR, and also helmed the surprisingly good ITALIAN JOB remake that was a pretty big sleeper in the summer of 2003. His follow up films, A MAN APART, and BE COOL haven’t been all that good, but LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is a solid comeback film for him that proves he still has the goods.

Overall, it’s a fairly cracking thriller that, nonetheless, requires a certain suspension of disbelief if one is to enjoy it fully. The screenplay is by Kurt Wimmer, the guy behind EQUILIBRIUM, which, despite being buried years ago by Miramax, is probably the film which got Christian Bale BATMAN BEGINS. Since then, he’s had a spotty track record, but his concept for of a sympathetic, Jigsaw-like killer orchestrating mayhem from behind bars is intriguing. While it all falls apart a bit towards the end, [b]it’s still a pretty solid flick, boasting a top-notch performance by star Gerard Butler.[/b]

Since hitting the big-time with 300, Butler’s mainly been acting in romantic comedies like THE UGLY TRUTH, P.S I LOVE YOU, and the upcoming BOUNTY HUNTER. While we get the occasional action flick, like GAMER, these rom-coms seem to be his bread and butter nowadays, but obviously LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is an attempt to take his career in another path. He’s never had as complicated a role as he does here, as he’s playing a guy who could easily be the hero, but is instead the villain of the piece, as his trail of vengeance goes way beyond the people involved in the killing of his family. Interestingly, Butler plays him like he’s the hero, leading to an interesting dynamic with co-star Jamie Foxx, who plays the more passive role, despite being the nominal protagonist/ hero. Throughout the film, even as his deeds got more and more heinous, I still kinda rooted for Butler, which says a lot. The only part of his role that hit the wrong note was a stupid scene where he inexplicably strips naked as the police approach, which seems to exist only as an excuse to show off his ass and abs, and belongs in a Matthew McConaughey film, and not in a serious thriller.

As for Foxx, he definitely has the lesser role here. I’m a fairly big Foxx fan, as the guy has proven time and time again that he’s among the most gifted actors currently working (for proof, take a look at RAY, COLLATERAL, ALI, THE SOLOIST, and the underrated THE KINGDOM), but he definitely takes a back seat here to Butler, although he still acquits himself nicely, and is believable in the role. The supporting cast is top notch, with a lot of good character actors like Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill, and the amazing Viola Davis turning up in key roles. Davis in particular has a few really juicy scenes with Foxx.
The problems with LAW ABIDING CITIZEN mainly manifest themselves towards the end, where the film more or less limps towards a fairly predictable climax. Most of the big set-pieces, including Butler’s brutal murdering of his cellmate to The Who’s classic Eminence Front (which has already been making the rounds on the net) happen in the second act, and the film really could have used a little more excitement towards the end. There are also a few plot holes that pop up here and there- but still, the film works, so I won’t quibble.

Basically, this is like DEATH WISH meets SAW, by way of John Grisham. If that sounds like a winning combination to you, than you’re sure to enjoy the film- as I did. While it probably doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny, it’s still a solid, entertaining thriller.

Author: Chris Bumbray

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