Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Law Abiding Citizen" (2009)

"Law Abiding Citizen" (2009)
Starring Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx and Colm Meaney
Written by Kurt Wimmer
Directed by F. Gary Gray

One night, two men, Ames and Darby, burst into the home of Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler).  They beat and stab him and leave him for dead.  Worse, they do the same to his wife and daughter.  Shelton survives, and expects justice for his murdered family.  Instead what he gets is hot-shot attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) who accepts a plea deal from one Darby in order to save his 96% conviction rate after important evidence is ruled inadmissible. 

Ten years later, Rice attends Ames' execution, but instead of being executed, the man is murdered.  It seems someone switched the lethal injection drugs to cause a painful, agonizing death.  Soon after, Darby is kidnapped, tortured, and cut to pieces.  The search for the killer is quick: Clyde Shelton surrenders easily to the police, but this is where "Law Abiding Citizen" is just beginning.  Even incarcerated, Shelton is somehow still managing to get the justice he demands for his wife and daughter's death.  He begins with Darby's defense attorney, and quickly begins to move up the ranks against those in the justice department that see the law as more important than justice.

"Law Abiding Citizen" is a fun, entertaining couple of hours.  For a few moments it aspires to be a bit more than popcorn as Shelton attempts to impart a lesson about the value of justice over the letter of the law, but this message quickly becomes tiresome since it's delivered over and over again.  There could have been a keen dissection of this concept, or an exploration of the ideas of justice versus vengeance, but the film is far more focused on letting us marvel at Shelton's well-laid plans and technical wizardry.  How is he able to continue killing people even though he's trapped in a jail cell?  Who on the outside is helping him?

Foxx and Butler give solid performances, but neither is the best they're capable of.  Whether that's their own fault, or that of the script or the direction, who knows?  Still, there's nothing really bad here, they both comport themselves well enough, they're just not going to win any awards for this one.  As vicious and cold as Shelton may be, it's hard not to have some sympathy for him. But that's really as complex as the characters in "Law Abiding Citizen" get.  There's some basic drama with Rice's family not liking the fact that he works so much, but this isn't a deep movie and is completely plot-driven.

For the most part, "Law Abiding Citizen" is fairly predictable.  You know what's going to happen and when, since the setup is obvious.  Oh, Shelton is eating lunch with his cellmate and is hiding a knife under the table?  I wonder if he's going to stab him... Oh, Rice is watching a bunch of his friends get into their cars in the parking lot in a wide shot?  I wonder how many of those cars are about to explode.  And so on, and so forth.  This isn't a knock however, because when it happens, you're gonna like it.  There are some vicious kills, and a couple of really ingenious ones.

My roommate likened it to Liam Neeson's "Taken", but that's not quite the best comparison.  "Law Abiding Citizen" is definitely a thriller, while "Taken" is definitely a balls-out action flick.  Still, there's some similarities with all the single-minded, unstoppable-ness of the characters.  I enjoyed "Taken" a lot more than I did "Law Abiding Citizen," as that film was quick and badass while "Law Abiding Citizen" moves a bit slower, and is a bit more calculated.   But it's still a good time.  Figuring out what Shelton's going to do and who he's going to kill next is a lot of fun.

PS - I should mention that the DVD menu actually gives away the ending of the movie.  Try to hit 'play' as fast as possible on this one.