This action thriller involves a seemingly normal citizen named Clyde Shelton who eventually faces off with prosecutor Nick Rice and the entire city of Philadelphia in Law Abiding Citizen. The tragic circumstances surrounding this crime storm initiate immediately at the beginning as a home burglary set the gritty and often brutal tone.
Clive (Gerard Butler) contends with this tragedy and the after effects, which include some questionable legal maneuvering and resulting “it's what you can prove” justifications. Nick (Jamie Foxx) deals directly with Clive who weighs his own measure of justice on two particular criminals and eventually high ranking civic leaders.
Clyde switches between innocent “normal guy” expressions to menacing glares as audiences strap in for a thought-provoking ride. Clyde’s background becomes an important element as he tackles the system head on and even embarrasses a high-ranking judge in a key courtroom scene.
Clyde evokes a city wide, terrorist-like fear as he brings the entire city to its knees among his intellectual duel scenes with Nick. Even Nick’s colleagues, Sarah and Jonas, played respectively by Leslie Bibb and Bruce McGill, begin to question the legal system and wonder if these actions might atone for any justice missteps. “I just want to make sure I’m doing this for something more than a high conviction rate,” Sarah says to Nick.
Colm Meaney and Michael Irby provide Nick with some police assistance and the audience with some well-timed comic relief after particularly intense scenes. “We have to stay in front of [Clyde] if we want to stay alive,” says Meaney’s character Detective Dunnigan.
Filmmakers gloss over the public reaction and only include a news sound bite describing how the growing scenario represents the “first time government officials are being systematically murdered.” It might have been better to hear from people on the streets themselves or even incorporate them into scenes with Clive. Instead recent Oscar-nominee Viola Davis represents the citizens' growing concern late in the film as Philadelphia’s mayor.
The screenplay shapes some jolting scenes, timeline breaks and surprises plus genuine tension that does not “toy” with an audience or feel manipulative. Potential plot points like cell phone use and supporting characters as possible suspects give way to straight forward actions.
This plot contains echoes of the Joker’s menacing internal terrorism in The Dark Knight while creating several original scenarios with strong closure and logical explanations amid the twists and turns.
Director F. Gary Gray keeps strong focus on this gritty gem while adding some stylistic visual techniques in key sequences including a unique “stage” sequence which weaves a music recital and an execution scene together.
This formulaic film still works and provokes thoughts on society and the current justice system long after the ending credits role. Recommended with reservations and rated R for brutal violence, torture, sexual violence and pervasive language.