Decent thrillers are hard to come by these days, so when one comes along that’s fun and involving, we should embrace it. ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ is just that. It’s preposterous, but it knows it. The plot probably won’t hold up under cross examination, but you don’t care while you’re watching it. This flick wants nothing more than to entertain, and it succeeds.
Gadget engineer Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) survives a home invasion where he witnesses his wife and daughter brutally murdered. Nick Rice (Jaime Foxx) is the hotshot prosecutor with the 96% conviction rate maintained by plea-bargaining cases that aren’t an automatic ‘slam dunk’. When a crucial piece of evidence is deemed inadmissible, Rice makes a deal with one of the murderers to testify against the other in return for a reduced sentence. Despite Shelton’s objections, only one is sentenced to death.
10 years later, the lethal injection execution of the murderer goes horribly wrong, with someone having replaced the usual pain free drugs with ones that are substantially more painful. Why would someone go to all the trouble to kill a man during his execution? The first suspect is Clarence Darby, the partner, but when he’s found chopped to pieces on a property owned by Shelton, it’s he who becomes the prime suspect.
That’s the set up, and from there it rattles along at a brisk pace with Shelton systematically knocking off all the people involved in the injustice 10 years prior. The mystery is how he’s able to keep murdering people from his jail cell. There’s the usual bunk about his mysterious past, and at one stage he’s basically described as the smartest man on the planet, a mantle he must’ve inherited from Jason Isaacs.
Directed by F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator), and written by Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium) the movie is skilfully made and never ceases to entertain. But I call for an amnesty on establishing shots taken by a helicopter that circles a building or monument. It’s getting annoying. It was also amusing to note the efforts made to differentiate between the two time periods. Apart from a dated mobile phone and little beard worn by Foxx, you really can’t tell the two time periods apart. None of the characters look one day older. Whatever these characters secret is, if they can bottle it, there’s money to be made.
The performances are good across the board, but it’s Butler who shines and who is clearly having a great time in the starring role. The audience sympathises with Shelton, and Butler plays up the anti-hero aspects of the character. He gets all the best lines and plays those moments well. Foxx does what needs to be done with a fairly bland character. He clearly looks as though he’s coveting the much better, more interesting Shelton role. Despite being the hotshot lawyer, Rice never comes across as particularly intelligent. He’s always three steps behind Shelton and only catches up by the good fortune of an astounding clue dropping in his lap. He seems more like a slick, ambulance chaser than a formidable opponent in the intellectual battle with Shelton.
What I particularly liked about LAC is that it doesn’t shy away from showing the violence. It’s pretty bloody in parts and has benefited from not being neutered to get a PG-13 rating. Too many movies feel compromised by chasing the PG-13 rating, and this flick shows what a difference that freedom to just tell a story can make.
While ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ is never exactly fraught with tension, and the final table-turning is plainly obvious, it’s well made, has a great performance by Butler at it’s centre, there are a few good ‘jump’ moments and it’s never boring. And that’s all we really need to expect from thriller.