Law Abiding Citizen is a film flying completely under the radar at the moment, drowned out due to the sounds of children’s screams exiting Where the Wild Things Are this weekend. But ignoring its seemingly unoriginal plot and massive pile of negative reviews, it’s a film that actually does a lot of cool things, ends up being highly entertaining, and is dangerously close to being a great film.
A man’s home is invaded, his house robbed and his wife and daughter murdered in front of him. But when the pair of killers is arrested, one makes a deal with the prosecutor to get off easy, while the other goes to death row. This doesn’t sit well with the father (Gerard Butler) and he spends the next ten years plotting up the world’s most elaborate revenge scheme against the criminals, the prosecutor (Jamie Foxx) and all the other court officials and government appointees involved.
He quickly dispatches of his family’s killers in particularly brutal ways, but things really turn wonky once he’s in prison, yet other people start dying anyways. It’s all part of his insanely complicated plan he’s been setting up for years, thanks in part due to a secret supply of black-ops skills which are normally employed to assassinate foreign dignitaries from a thousand miles away.
Lesson learned: Being a lawyer sucks.
The result of all this is a hard R-rated action thriller that is really quite a pleasant surprise. Maybe it’s just because I’ve seen too many goddamn PG-13 superhero movies over the past few years, but it’s rather refreshing to see a bit of brutality back onscreen again, and wrapped in a rather clever package nonetheless.
This is the first film I’ve seen that has finally convinced me that Gerard Butler, given the right material, has what it takes to be a leading man. And yes, I’m not counting 300, because anyone with an eight pack and the ability to yell could have made filled that role, but in this film, Clyde Shelton is a masterfully complex character for a movie that from outward appearances would seem to be mindless. You feel the pain of his loss when his family is murdered, and you are reborn with him in his newfound quest for vengeance, or “justice” as he puts it.
But the main problem of the film, is that it doesn’t seem to realize that it’s painted Shelton as the hero, rather than the villain, and assumes we’re supposed to identify with Jamie Foxx’s character as he tries to stop this “madman” from killing “innocent” people. But no, you want him to see his plan to fruition, you want him to destroy the establishment and kill everyone onscreen (especially Jaime Foxx) to placate the dead souls of his wife and child.
He’s still killing people, even though he’s in HELL!
This all culminates in the extremely lackluster ending of the film, that pussies out at the very last minute after an hour and a half of brilliance and brutality. It’s a real shame to leave the film on such a sour and melancholy note after investing so much time into trajectory of a brilliantly planned and seemingly justified revenge plot. But by making Shelton the bad guy, just because his victims are toting briefcases instead of guns, was entirely the wrong way to play this.
Law Abiding Citizen has the moral lessons about justice of the Life of David Gale, the elaborate jigsaw puzzle scheming of Inside Man with the scorned parent mayem of Taken, all of which add up to a very nice package, only spoiled by some stale icing on the cake. But that doesn’t mean the whole thing isn’t worthwhile, as it’s far more entertaining than watching giant furry monsters throw each other around an island. Don’t listen to the critics (well, except me), give it a shot, and I guarantee you’ll have a pretty good time.
3.5 out of 5 stars
“Yeah, you heard me, The Soloist sucked!”