L. Gary Gray’s Law Abiding Citizen was a fun film to watch and to review. Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is a father and husband, a family man in every sense of the word. When violent thugs mercilessly take the lives of his wife and daughter, he finds himself waiting in the long line of the justice system to see justice served. His disappointment in the legal system is what sets the film’s tagline: “The system must pay!”
The movie follows Shelton in his own vigilante pursuit of justice on a citywide scale. How many lives will be lost, how much damage must be done before the greater good is served? In opposition to Shelton’s justice is that of Nick Rice, the city of Philadelphia’s chief prosecutor (Jamie Foxx). You have two geniuses clashing minds and a string of terrorist-style murders in a tale of bloodshed, justice, and morality.
Law Abiding Citizen is deeply flawed. The plot runs south of the border of believable on not a few occasions and brings with it a contrived feeling of being a flimsy story that tries (in vain) to make the audience ask the question: “What is real justice and who’s dispensing it?”
The film doesn’t make you ask that, but it does make you say: “Wow, that guy sure kicks ass! How is he doing that?” The simplicity with which it executes its vengeful plot has a beauty that could be dusted off and put on a shelf for decoration. The seething anger comes right through the screen and touches you. It writhes in its retaliatory binging with the single-mindedness of an autistic 3-year-old.
The writers love to hear themselves rattle (too much) through the characters, but you can’t tell me Law Abiding Citizen is not thrilling and entrancing—regardless of how many vicious beatings from the critics it will take. It will take them all…and more. The acting, especially that of the supporting cast, would be spat upon if it could jump into a suit and tie and try to get into high society, but that sooooooo doesn’t matter!
“Get ready to root for the bad guy” was the VHS subtitle of Mel Gibson’s Payback (1999), that being an example of a graceful story execution that puts you heads-locked-forward in wanting the bad guy to win. Law Abiding Citizen doesn’t quite go that way, but ends up being more like the Saw series. The film’s message of good vs. evil, justice vs. injustice, becomes consuming to the point where it can only be appreciated for its violent and vindictive aim.
But some directors should take a long, hard look. Would that both Punisher movies (2004 and 2008) had the teeth-gritting gumption to pull off a gory, action-packed explosion of excitement and getting even such as this. THIS is how The Punisher should have been played—as a broken man, consumed with grief and pain, crushed under an avalanche of life’s manifold evils.
Law Abiding Citizen relishes in its gore and in its reckless agenda of being nothing more than a mean-spirited thrill-ride that helps vent any residual hatred for the red tape of bureaucracy, but there’s room for that. I would have demanded that a number of scenes, along with gaping chunks of dialogue, be cut out (a great many needed to be). And how many more movies are going to have a parent say “go wash up for dinner” to the kids? Who the hell says that anymore!
If you’re watching to see a classy, award-winning movie, you’re watching for the wrong reason. Law Abiding Citizen is not an example of fine writing, but it stays ahead of the curve in being brazenly entertaining and not as predictable as expected. Let the critics say what they want. This one will have its admirers no matter what.
Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Director: L Gary Gray
Summary: A man decides to take justice into his own hands after a plea bargain sets one of his family's killers free.
Starring: Jamie Foxx “Nick Rice,” Gerard Butler “Clyde Shelton,” Colm Meaney “Detective Dunnigan,” Bruce McGill “Jonas Cantrell,” Leslie Bibb “Sarah Lowell,” Michael Irby “Detective Garza,” Gregory Itzin “Warden Iger,” Regina Hall “Kelly Rice,” Emerald-Angel Young “Denise Rice,” Christian Stolte “Clarence Darby,” Annie Corley “Judge Laura Burch,” Richard Portnow “Bill Reynolds”
Genre: Drama / Thriller / Crime