“Law Abiding Citizen” Review

October 22, 2009 | Law Abiding Citizen Reviews

As someone who formerly worked in the court system, I can tell you that “justice” is rarely fair. It is not meant to be really. The criminal justice system is set up so that the innocent people get a fair shake, even if it means the guilty get too much leeway. The system has its problems and its failsafes, and it is not perfect. The system simply cannot not be perfect.

There is no right or wrong, there is simply proven and unproven. This means the guilty are often set free and even when the guilty are convicted, they are out on the streets of the great U.S.A. shortly thereafter. Working in that system I have been tremendously frustrated. But I also know that overall, it is a pretty well thought out process.

“Law Abiding Citizen” is a movie that examines one man’s ferocious determination to fix the judicial system. How? By spotlighting absurdities with violence. Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is an inventor whose wife and young daughter are killed during a home invasion. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) is an assistant district attorney assigned to prosecute the Shelton murder case. Fearful of losing the case and damaging his win ratio, Rice agrees to cut a deal with one of the accused home invaders in order to get the death penalty for the second accused murderer. To rationalize his actions, Rice says, “Some justice is better than no justice.”

In real life, Rice’s comment is almost a maxim to live by. Often crucial evidence is inadmissible or made inadmissible and the only way to send an accused criminal away for any length of time is to cut a deal. It is not pretty, but it is common. Rice makes just such a deal with the one criminal, causing Clyde Shelton’s world and quite possibly his sanity, to crumble down around him. Distraught over Rice’s deal, Shelton fades away into obscurity only to reappear ten years later with a vengeance.

Though the premise is a bit far fetched (and what action/thriller movie isn’t?), it is worth the requisite suspension of disbelief. Normally Shelton’s methodical and ultra violent killing spree would seem absurd coming from a man who tinkers with robots for a living, however, the plot gains traction is in the backstory.

*SPOILER* Clyde Shelton previously made a living as a specialized and highly imaginative assassin. As Clyde is someone who once killed for a living, I think it is plausible that he snapped and now has no compunction about killing people left and right in order to prove a point.

The most difficult part to this movie is that the audience truly wants to root for Shelton. Shelton’s family was brutalized while he watched, helpless. Then the man that was personally responsible for killing his wife and child is set free after a brief prison term, while Shelton again watched helplessly from the sidelines. When Shelton notes the problems with the criminal justice system, he is absolutely right. As the movie does not delve into the counterarguments to Shelton’s issues, we really only see Shelton’s side of the conversation. It is only because Shelton coldly executes innocent people that you find yourself stopping just short of rooting for him.

Is this story ever likely to happen? No but the idea is an intriguing way to look at the problems with the criminal justice system. These are very real and very frustrating issue. Plus, the special effects have very little CGI work, which gives the story a bit more realism as well.

Regarding the cast, Butler turns in some very good acting here, but we never see his character fully break. You see Shelton’s emotions and some of his internal struggle, but for any man capable of doing what Shelton did, perhaps Butler should have exhibited either less or more emotion. Either Shelton is a sociopath or he has gone completely insane. Instead, Butler’s portrayal is somewhere in between making it good, but it falls short of what it could have been.

Foxx turns in solid performance as the mouse to Butler’s cat, but the character of Rice never shows the charisma that Shelton does. You know you need to root for Rice, but you also know his inability to learn a simple lesson is causing people to lose their lives. For that reason, it is kind of hard to root for him and enjoy it.

The dialogue is fairly well done with a few laugh out loud moments and lines. We never get a full soliloquy of exposition and explanation, but we get enough to get the point. Besides, anyone as brilliant and methodical as Shelton is not going to have a long-winded explanation for his mayhem. However, if he had been clearer from the start, maybe more people would have survived Mr. Shelton’s class on the justice system.

As it is, I was actually pretty entertained throughout. The movie clips along at a swift pace, and there are a few tense and surprising moments. This is not one of the best thrillers of all time, but it was a solid bit of cat and mouse story telling. The character of Shelton I found to be riveting, even if he was a bit gruesome at times. Still, the movie is worth a viewing in the theatre if you want to enjoy the explosions, but a viewing on Blu-ray at home would be a pretty good way to watch it as well.

Author: Spaldy

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