Screenwriters: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Viola Davis, Leslie Bibb, Regina Hall, Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill
Running time: 108 mins
A twisty psychological thriller from Italian Job director F. Gary Gray, Law Abiding Citizen is Hollywood hokum of the tallest order. Riddled with supernova-sized plot holes and soaked in clichés, it's that rare breed of film that succeeds despite its credibility-straining premise and black and white morality. Helmer Gray keeps piling on the tension in a succession of increasingly ludicrous set pieces, making the film an effective (if slightly daft) thrill ride.
It begins by introducing Gerard Butler's Clyde Shelton and his happy family life. That's quickly shattered when two men break into his home and brutally kill his wife and daughter. Prosecutor Nick Rice (Foxx) cuts a deal with one of the murderers, Darby, to send him to jail for five years while the other, Ames, goes to death row. The agreement angers Clyde, who wanted both to go to trial. Nick attempts to reason with him, telling him that evidence was sketchy and the killers could have gotten away. Flash forward ten years and Clyde resurfaces to off Ames and Darby using grisly methods that befit the Saw movies. He's quickly arrested but his incarceration can't stop the killing - those linked back to the murder case are getting bumped in spectacular fashion.
Gray's film functions primarily as an entertainment but it strives to ask questions about vengeance, justice and the decay of the legal system. Will it spark any kind of debate on those hot topics? Probably not, but if you're looking for two hours of edge-of-your-seat thrills and whiplash plot turns then Law Abiding Citizen will itch that particular scratch. It's a competent superhero movie, with Butler the dastardly villain always one step ahead of Foxx's righteous do-gooder. The comic book good vs. evil battle holds up thanks to the strength of the film's leading men. Butler, an actor who's often hit and miss, makes Clyde a truly hideous human being - one who seems to delight in using his intelligence to plan kills to the smallest detail. He's Hannibal Lector, the Joker and Keyser Soze rolled into one despicable whole. Foxx, the upstanding family man, is well aware that the establishment has screwed Clyde over but isn't prepared to let him get away with his cold-blooded executions - their dynamic is an engaging one.
Law Abiding Citizen was plagued by production disputes just prior to filming, seeing Shawshank Redemption's Frank Darabont leave the director's chair with the tried and trusted "creative differences" excuse. The film seems to flit between offering Friday night frivolity (Grays's domain) and cerebral commentary about men crossing the line in the name of justice. It's the former that wins out, though Darabont's stamp is still on the film. Here, the desires of Shawshank's Andy Dufresne are inverted as Clyde actually breaks into prison! Law Abiding Citizen's more serious points are lost amid the OTT carnage, but it's inventive and shocking enough (watch out for a mobile phone-related fatality) to stay gripping for the duration.
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