Theatrical Review: LAW ABIDING CITIZEN
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Leslie Bibb
Studio: Overture Films
When watching a movie it is relatively easy to realize who you are supposed to root for, the protagonist usually emerging early on. Once we know who represents what is right, then we have our hero for the next two-plus hours. What is intriguing, but ultimately disappointing, about the new thriller LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is that, for around the first half of the movie, it is not obvious which of the two leads we should back. LAW ABIDING CITIZEN starts off by presenting the leads and their situation in a way that takes the film to a gray area, where differing cases can be made for supporting both characters.
The two main characters in LAW ABIDING CITIZEN are Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler), an inventor and gadget whiz, and assistant district attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx). The film opens up with Clyde and his family being assaulted by thieves. During the attack, Clyde’s wife and young daughter are murdered, resulting in sympathy from the audience.
Foxx’s Nick Rice is the prosecutor assigned to the case. However, instead of arguing the case to the end in hopes of getting both men convicted of first degree murder, Rice decides to make deal that gives one of the assailants the death penalty and the other a three year sentence. The movie lets on that Nick is eager for a plea bargain to protect his high success rate, making one question the morality of Foxx’s character. Clyde begs Nick not to make deal, wanting both men to pay the harshest sentence possible, but fails, as the plea bargain was already in the works.
Ten years pass with Rice still practicing law, and Clyde’s deep-seated hatred for the judicial system festering the whole time. Clyde conjures up an intricate plan for vengeance, targeting those he feels are responsible for the massacre of his family. The primary stages of Clyde’s plan are directed at the two killers. This is the most compelling part of the film as questions are asked whether or not Clyde is actually doing the right thing. If your family was brutally murdered, would you not want those responsible to suffer the consequences? The problem arises as Butler’s character goes from being a mourning father who deserves our sympathy, to a full-blown psycho craving the blood of all those remotely linked to the slaughter.
The film doesn’t do enough to redeem Rice, making him a difficult man to care about. Clyde’s retribution causes bodies to pile up, and Rice seems more intent on saving his career and his own ass than protecting the “innocent.”
Also, the film severely lacks genuinely suspenseful moments, a pretty big deal when the movie is being marketed as a “thriller.” While not always clear on Clyde’s ambition, we usually get a good idea of how each snare Clyde has set will turn out. I would go into details, but I don’t want to spoil it for those still wishing to watch the movie.
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN does get a great performance from one of the actors, however not the obvious choice, Oscar winner Foxx. Rather, it is Butler, whose past roles have not offered him a lot of opportunities to showcase his talent. Butler’s Clyde does lose his affability, as his plan for retaliation goes from arguably justifiable to fucking insane, but he is still captivating through his transformation. He has charisma, and he uses it well, as he takes Clyde from being a grieving victim to brilliant lunatic.
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN flirts with the idea of moral ambiguity, but comes out lame as lines eventually become clearly drawn with a 'hero' and 'villian' on each side, and to make things even more mediocre the attempted thrills usually fail to really excite.
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