Law Abiding Citizen is a movie that looked interesting, but perhaps not like an immediate winner. Sure, the cast was intriguing and the trailer seemed to promise some excitement, but it didn't look like anything we haven't already seen a hundred times before. Then I began to hear some good things about the film. Buzz was building that it was an interesting film with unique execution. Whatever the reality was, I wanted to find out more. Granted, I was surely going to see it anyway, but this gave me a little hope that I would come out smiling on the other end.
I am pleased to report that while this is no classic, it is immensely entertaining. The movie is a battle of wits between two intelligent men that puts up a front of intelligence while not actually being intelligent at all. Law Abiding Citizen is the equivalent of putting a fancy paint job on a Pinto — sure, it may look pretty, but it's still a Pinto. It will get you where you want to go, but you are always in danger of spontaneously exploding.
Director F. Gary Gray and writer Kurt Wimmer have successfully put a Hollywood sheen on a violent, exploitative feature that plays like a cross between Death Wish and Saw. The big names and the Hollywood machine bring it back toward the mainstream, but that does not change the fact that this is a violent film whose goal is to titillate and exploit with a nod towards some fashion of morality tale.
Law Abiding Citizen does not waste any time getting right down to business. Clyde (Gerard Butler) is home with his family when there is a knock at the door. He answers it only to find a couple of nasty home invaders waiting for him. They push their way in and while one is bagging valuables, the other has tied up Clyde and murdered his wife and young daughter.
What follows is very Death Wish-esque. A deal is made with one of the suspects, ensuring a much shorter sentence than he deserves. The deal is brokered by A.D.A. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) much to Clyde's chagrin. Clyde believes, rightfully, his family deserves more than a deal.
It is not until a decade later that Clyde and Nick come together again — ten long years during which Clyde has plotted and simmered in his anger. It is now time for his plans to be set into motion. Clyde is revealed to be a man of intelligence who possesses much in the way of resources.
Clyde is behind bars, moving his pawns across the board while Nick keeps playing catch up. I do not want to give you the details, as that would rob you of the fun of discovering what happens. This film is heavy on the plot, meaning you do not want it spoiled. Suffice to say, as visceral as it is, you will be guessing for awhile.
Revenge thrillers are nothing new, they have been around for a long time, so long that the formula seems to be set in stone with little variation. The template seems to be Death Wish, where Charles Bronson showed how it's done. Law Abiding Citizen takes that formula and successfully moves beyond it, grafting on a side of Saw. The resulting film seeks to become more than a tale of revenge, stepping into a broader realm of the morality play. Why teach one person a lesson that will never be spread when you can make a much bigger statement, right? Nothing is quite as broken as our ability to dole out proper justice, although the willingness is there. This reminds me a little of Jigsaw and the need to respect life through causing death.
The movie is exciting. It never lets up, it never gets boring. It is not a terribly realistic film, but it does what it needs to do. It is not the sort of film that gets too bogged down in the smaller details of character development. Writer Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium, The Recruit) has bigger fish to fry, giving the characters a distinct one-dimensional role to play and setting them to killing people in the name of exposing a broken system. Director F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator, Be Cool) keeps the proceedings moving along, never letting up for a moment, lest you begin to think about what is actually happening and how little connective tissue there is between everything.
As for the acting? It is generally solid. Foxx and Butler have good chemistry as they go through their sparring matches. That is something considering how little they are given to work with. Butler is required to play the sad guy early on and then the genius killer later, no real transition, and not other emotions. He is charismatic but flat. As for Foxx, he is cocky with his eye set on the future rather than the here and now. He does not have to stretch very far, but he makes what little there is work.
Bottom line. In the end, this is a good film. It delivers excitement, chaos, and wears a veil of intelligence. If you want a fun time that will make you guess, this could fill the need. It is clearly better than the commercials would have you believe and is definitely worth a look-see.