Law Abiding Citizen
Review by Jack Foley
UNLIKE the recent British thriller Harry Brown, Law Abiding Citizen doesn’t claim to have as many social aspirations. It does make you think…. albeit briefly, but it primarily exists to entertain.
That said, it still operates using a dubious morality and ultimately puts viewers in too difficult a place.
When ambitious assistant District Attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) grants a rapist-murderer a deal, grieving father and husband Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is forced to look on powerlessly as the main perpetrator goes free.
Ten years later, Shelton begins to gain his revenge, waging a one-man war against Rice and the justice system that he represents.
Early on, Law Abiding Citizen does make some valid points about how justice can be manipulated and makes Shelton a sympathetic avenging vigilante.
It also displays a hard-edged approach to the violence that doesn’t always make for easy watching, while building the tension between Butler and Foxx nicely.
But as things veer increasingly into popcorn territory at the expense of credibility, the film then wrongfoots viewers still further by asking them to switch allegiances.
Shelton becomes the apparent villain while the reluctantly apologetic Rice becomes the supposed wronged party. The result is highly unsatisfactory, particularly as F Gary Gray and company don’t have the courage of their convictions to deliver an ending that really delivers on the ingenious set-ups that have come before it.
Hence, what starts out as an edgy, surprising variation on the Death Wish formula winds up a formulaic thriller that panders to the conventional need for a pat ending.
The violence increasingly takes on an unpalatable feeling that, upon reflection, leaves you feeling as cold as the ethics underpinning the screenplay.
Butler, for his part, is good value as Shelton, managing his transformations well, and there’s useful support from the likes of Bruce McGill and Colm Meaney. But Foxx struggles to engage the audience on any level thanks to a poorly written role.
Gray, too, delivers some nice action sequences and one genuine shock during the gripping first two thirds of proceedings, but ultimately fluffs the conclusion.
The end result is a film that starts out as a guilty pleasure and ends up a hugely missed opportunity.
Running time: 108mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: April 12, 2010
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