Law Abiding Citizen
Released January 28, 2010.
A lot of platitudes are thrown around in F. Gary Gray‘s new thriller, most of them by the psychopathic serial killer Clyde Shelton played by Gerard Butler. He voices fears about a judicial system more concerned with legal wrangling than with honest justice. You might sympathize with him for a little while, but less so after witnessing his alternative: the dismemberment of an alive but paralysed victim, Saw-style, one limb at a time.
Mercifully this occurs off screen, but it’s not the only bit of nasty in this trashy mix of Silence of the Lambs and Seven, that is nonetheless disturbingly entertaining thanks to a healthy dose of ludicrousness.
In the opening scene, Clyde’s wife and daughter are killed, and prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) makes a deal with the killers to ensure a sentence (“It’s not what you know, but what can be proven in court,” he says). Clyde is furious and directs his vengeance at the killers and system that let them off lightly. The twist is that he is behind bars when the revenge killings begin. How is he committing these crimes? Does he have an accomplice? And if so, who?
The final answer is as absurd as some of the gleefully over-the-top killings, which in the latter stages shift from torture porn malice to cheesy action movie clichés. The big moments are broadcast too early, making the surprise less about when and who, and more about how.
Despite all this, Law Abiding Citizen is suspenseful and decently made. Foxx and Butler make adequate adversaries, with the latter particularly having fun with the lip-smacking sociopathic traits of his character. I wonder what the film would be like if the lead actors switched roles, as was originally intended. Perhaps not so different, if the script was still written by Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium, Ultraviolet). The script is the source of most of the movie’s problems, but also some of its pleasures. Any movie that has a vicious unprovoked murder with a t-bone has to have something going for it.