Law Abiding Citizen
dir F Gary Gray
scr Kurt Wimmer
prd Gerard Butler, Lucas Foster, Mark Gill, Robert Katz, Alan Siegel, Kurt Wimmer
with Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill, Leslie Bibb, Regina Hall, Viola Davis, Roger Bart, Christian Stolte, Emerald-Angel Young, Michael Irby, Annie Corley
release US 16.Oct.09, UK 27.Nov.09
09/US 1h48
Law Abiding Citizen
Heated debate: Foxx and Butler

meaney hall davus
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Law Abiding Citizen Super-slick filmmaking masks this thriller's reprehensible message that violence can solve any problem. It's so beautifully shot and nicely underplayed by the cast that viewers could be fooled into believing that it's coherent or acceptable. But it's neither.

Clyde (Butler) has his happy life destroyed when a psycho (Stolte) kills his wife and daughter, but his lawyer Nick (Foxx) accepts a plea bargain that lets the killer out of jail in three years. A decade later, Clyde starts his revenge. A spot of brutal torture and murder lands him in prison, but he continues from behind bars with his violent mission to take down the legal system. It's up to Nick and a cop (Meaney) to figure out how he's doing this before he kills them too.

Gaping plot-holes and thinly drawn characters are a problem in any script, although director Gray is adept at keeping us distracted, simply because he doesn't pause to let us examine the plot's enormous improbabilities (much of this hinges on a revelation that throws logic out the window). Meanwhile, each person in the story is defined by filmmaking shorthand, such as a warmly inviting home, a cute child or a reference to some sort of lovelife.

The actors play these elements perfectly, making us believe the non-existent back-stories so that we accept them as rounded characters, even though they have no shadings at all. Foxx is magnetic as usual, and his interaction with colleagues (McGill, Bibb and Bart), his wife (Hall), daughter (Young) and Philadelphia's mayor (Davis) convinces us that he's the good guy. On the other hand, Butler struggles to make us sympathise with his despicable character, who is clearly meant to be righteously indignant.

Except that there's nothing remotely righteous about him. Not one of his actions is forgivable; he's more of a danger than the men who killed his family. And this is the fact that's completely lost on the filmmakers, as there's never a sense that brutality and death are the wrong way to correct an injustice. Indeed, as the pernicious story progresses even the cops, lawyers and judges become cold-blooded killers, and we're supposed to cheer for them. Which is inexcusable.

cert 18 themes, language, strong violence 9.Oct.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall