Gerard Butler stands out in ‘Law Abiding Citizen’

November 6, 2009 | Law Abiding Citizen Reviews

“Law Abiding Citizen” is one of many films over the years that actors of Jamie Foxx’s stature should either pass on or insist the studio provide a worthwhile script. After all, Hollywood has an almost unlimited supply of competent writing talent chomping for the opportunity to create a quality screenplay for an Oscar winner. A thriller about a brilliant scientist seeking vengeance for the tortuous murder of his family, any attempt to understand the complicated plot will be hampered by a tendency to doze off in disinterest. The tone and pace are erratic and add to the preposterous feel of the basic plot.

Beginning with a gruesome prologue, the setting is Philadelphia. Genius inventor Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) answers his door one evening and is bludgeoned unconscious with a baseball bat. When he comes to bound and gagged, deranged home invader Darby (Christian Stolte) stabs Clyde’s wife (Regina Hall) to death and slays his daughter – even though Darby’s partner Ames (Josh Stewart) wants only to flee the scene.

More interested in a conviction than justice, ambitious prosecutor Nick Rice (Foxx) convinces DA boss Jonas (Bruce McGill) to approve a deal with Darby. The illogical plea bargain results in Ames getting the death penalty, while cold-blooded killer Darby is sentenced to a mere 10 years.

Understandably outraged, Clyde spends much of the next decade brooding and comes up with a creative plan to exact vengeance, not only on the murderers, but also on those he deems responsible for the blatant miscarriage of justice. The Rice family, the DA’s office, a judge and Philly PD bigwigs are all on Clyde’s list.

After 10 years, Nick is Assistant DA and is witnessing the comparatively staid execution of Ames — when it evolves into something shocking. Then Clyde makes a production of torturing the fiendish Darby and chopping him into pieces.

Rice and cop sidekick Dunnigan (Colm Meaney) arrest Clyde in a ridiculous drawn-out scene that features the scientist waiting for them naked and obviously unarmed. Contemptuous of Nick, Clyde as much as admits his guilt. Eventually caged Hannibal style. Clyde warns Nick that everyone connected with the case will die.

After proving he can exact vengeance from captivity, Clyde toys with Nick by demanding a meal from a fancy restaurant be delivered to his cell, a bribe to persuade him to divulge the whereabouts of his current target.

As the victim count mounts, the Mayor (Viola Davis) goes ballistic and every cop and “meter maid” in Philadelphia is assigned to the high-profile case.

Following about an hour of chasing around the “City of Brotherly Love,” Clyde’s contrived methods are revealed, all leading to a ridiculous final twist.

While Foxx’s rather bland Nick generally comes across as a good guy who makes a regrettable error in judgment, Butler’s sneering Clyde is the most memorable.

The photography, Philadelphia setting and other production values are good. And the basic premise is sometimes engaging, but the plot lacks the cohesion that leads to viewer satisfaction. That said, this is a film that any prosecutor or judge who deals with plea bargains should ponder as they might someday be held accountable.

Publication: The Courier of Montgomery County
Author: Michael Huckaby

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