“It’s gonna be biblical.”
While I enjoyed Law Abiding Citizen it wasn’t quite the typical revenge piece I was expecting, and was (unsurprisingly) capped with a Hollywood ending. Clyde’s rampage extends beyond the traditional payback scenario and, I think, a little to far into the realm of a psychotic killer. RT currently has this movie sitting at 15%, now I think perhaps that is a little harsh. Sure it’s not Oscar worthy, but when Gamer gets a better average than this, I have to start asking some questions.
Law Abiding Citizen begins with the character of Clyde Shelton (Butler), an apparently everyday guy living a normal life with his wife and daughter. Shortly thereafter, Clyde and his family are the victims of a particularly brutal home invasion, during which both his wife and daughter are murdered. We quickly skip ahead to the trail where, thanks to district attorney Nick Rice (Foxx), one of the murderers is receiving a reduced sentence of three years in exchange for his testimony. Obviously this news does not sit too well with our protagonist. This concludes the set up for the movie, which was thankfully quite short, and 10 years later we get right into the action. Clyde is out for revenge, not just on those who killed his family, but also on those in the justice department; a system that Clyde believes is broken, corrupt and beyond redemption.
Let me point out that I quite enjoy F. Gary Gray’s movies; I loved The Negotiator, I quite enjoyed The Italian Job, and I even saw some merits in A Man Apart. Gray is a surprisingly good director considering his background in rap videos and the atrociously bad Friday. This movie, I believe, is another win for Gray. It is also somewhat typical of his directorial style. If we consider The Negotiator and A Man Apart to be indicative of Gray’s direction, this movie shares a similar flare; sticking to that dark, gritty, real world feel.
I have pointed out previously that I count myself a fan of Gerard Butler, so it will come as no surprise that I liked his part in this movie. Butler is becoming a really strong almost A list actor; he appears to be getting more and more top billed roles of late. Butler is rather close to my heart being born in the same small town in Scotland, but I would also argue that he is just an all round good actor. He has that rare ability to play both sides of the coin. In this movie, and even in 300, Butler portrays a very gritty, dark and dramatic character. In movies such as Rocknrolla and The Ugly Truth he portrays very light hearted comic roles with just as much conviction. As much as I am a fan of Butler, I also have to admit to having an irrational dislike for Jamie Foxx. There's nothing specific about him that illicits that feeling, thus the reason I call it an irrational dislike. I think it was Collateral that sealed his fate in my mind, I mean come on the taxi driver defeats the world class assassin – nonsense!! Anyway, I thought he did a pretty good job in this one, perhaps this is my own bias speaking here, but I don’t think he has much range as an actor. He has that Keanu Reeves wooden feel, and he always seems to play the same part (not that there is anything wrong with character actors, but I don’t get the sense he does it intentionally).
As to the rest of the case, there was some really nice talent crammed into the supporting roles here. First and foremost is Colm Meaney as Detective Dunnigan. I just love seeing Colm Meaney on the big screen again, he’s an example of a terrific character actor, he always plays a tough as nails, rough around the edges kind of guy (even Chief O’Brien had a dark side as seen in DS9). Bruce McGill also has a nice role in this one. He’s one of those actors that pops up all over, usually in supporting roles. Quite often you see him in as one of the token military advisors. Never the less he’s a good actor and brings a great presence to the screen (not unlike Barry Henley). Others to watch for include Lesley Bibb as D.A. Sarah Lowell and Michael Irby as Detective Garza. You should recognize Bibb from her cameo in Iron Man and Irby will be familiar to those who watched The Unit on CBS. All told I felt the casting was pretty good throughout.
While the movie gets things right by moving things along at a good pace, some of the actions taken by Clyde, in my opinion, stretch the patience of the audience. Initially he is a very sympathetic character, his family are brutally murdered and he wants justice. I have to admit I am a sucker for a good revenge story, ever since my first viewing of Death Wish I have been hooked on that particular sub genre. I’m also rather fond of Frank Castle so Law Abiding Citizen seemed to really fit the bill for me. Things change about half way into the movie though, when Clyde starts to pursue those in the justice system. Anyone remotely connected to the case is a target in Clyde’s plot, even Rice’s legal team. Personally I think that the writers erode any sympathy the audience has with regard to Clyde when innocent people start getting targeted. The reason why people rooted for Paul Kersey and Frank Castle is because they punished the guilty and they sought justice (granted it was a brutal and some would say barbaric sense of justice, but justice none the less). When Clyde goes beyond that, he breaks the ‘rules’ associated with revenge. Personally I think that was a mistake, and the movie suffers a little because of it. My feeling was that, as we entered the third act, I didn’t know who to root for anymore. Jamie Foxx’s character was still in the wrong for cutting the deal in the first place (the movie sets him up as the ‘bad guy’ from the start), but our protagonist (Butler) has gone so far as to become a villain himself. When there are no heroes, no good guys, who are we (the audience) supposed to connect with. I think what they were trying to do was flip it, turn Clyde from victim to villain and turn Rice from villain to victim. A nice idea, but I think they failed to really pull it off.
After all that though, this does still fit into that niche of revenge movie that I love so much. So I was entertained and I did enjoy it. It is, however, not a great movie. It’s no Death Wish, that was and is a classic so nothing else can come close. Neither is it so clear cut as The Punisher (I know people had issues with the Tom Jane version and even I had to admit the recent War Zone movie had problems). The Punisher, as the name suggests, punishes the guilty. He does not, ever, take an innocent life. while you can argue the moral implications of vigilantism for eternity, there’s no denying that it makes for a hell of a plot device. Law Abiding Citizen tries to be it’s own animal by defying some of those ‘revenge movie’ staples, but ends up falling short and leaving the audience with a rather flat Hollywood ending where the good guys prevail, yet again.
So should you see this one? If you catch a showing on FX sometime, or if you can snag it via streaming on Netflix then sure take a look. I wouldn’t be inclined to make a special trip to the theatre for it though, nor would I rush out to buy the DVD.
Final Verdict on Law Abiding Citizen: