Monday, October 19, 2009

Movie Review: Law Abiding Citizen

Law Abiding Citizen **
Directed By:
F. Gary Gray.
Written By: Kurt Wimmer.
Starring: Jamie Foxx (Nick Rice), Gerard Butler (Clyde Shelton), Colm Meaney (Detective Dunnigan), Bruce McGill (Jonas Cantrell), Leslie Bibb (Sarah Lowell), Michael Irby (Detective Garza), Gregory Itzin (Warden Iger), Regina Hall (Kelly Rice), Emerald-Angel Young (Denise Rice), Christian Stolte (Clarence Darby), Annie Corley (Judge Laura Burch), Richard Portnow (Bill Reynolds), Viola Davis (Mayor), Michael Kelly (Bray), Josh Stewart (Rupert Ames).

I think that somewhere in Law Abiding Citizen, a good movie is lurking waiting to come out. It strikes me as a movie that probably started out as a very ambitious screenplay, and got dumbed down as it went through the studio machine. If the movie had stayed true to some of the ideas it introduced – than so casually dismisses – this could have been a great, morally ambigious thriller. Instead, it’s just another silly action movie – and one that falls apart upon close inspection.

Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is spending a happy day with his wife and daughter, when there is a knock on the door, and two men enter, tie him up, and murder his family, leaving him for dead. The pair is arrested early, and it seems like a slam dunk of a case, but then some evidence is tossed out on a legal technicality, and the whole thing is in danger. Clyde still wants to go to trial – he can identify both men – but ADA Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), who is in charge of the case is less sure. He cuts a deal with one of the pair – giving him just 5 years in jail for a double homicide – in exchange for his testimony against the other one, which will put him on death row. Clyde is displeased with the result, and let Nick know it, but cannot change his mind.

10 years pass, and Nick is also now a family man. He attends the execution of the man he put on death row all those years before, but something goes horribly, horribly wrong. The prisoner is killed, but is in excoriating, agonizing pain, and the gallery is horrified. When the body of the man who got off is found – chopped into 25 pieces – the police immediately arrest Clyde. Clyde is unsurprised, and doesn’t ever really deny what he did. But this is just the beginning of the game that Clyde is going to play with Nick and the entire legal system that cuts deals with murderers and lets them roam the streets. He is pissed, and he wants everyone to know it.

Law Abiding Citizen is a rather silly movie, as Clyde keeps playing his game, keeps being able to kill people despite the obvious handicap of being in jail. He seems to be to get to anyone, anywhere with an elaborate death sentence to give them. Nick will discover that Clyde is what is known as a “brain”, a man that the military contacts when they need to kill someone but cannot get close to them. Clyde devised ways to kill without ever having to be in the same room as the victim.

As the movie progresses, things get more and more out of control, and the movie becomes more and more ridiculous. It must be said that Butler gives one of his better performances here, as a man hell-bent on revenge. We feel for Clyde, and many audience members will find themselves rooting for him, even if they know what he is doing is wrong. One of the problems with the movie is that Foxx seems to be sleepwalking through his role as Nick – never making him anywhere near as interesting as Clyde is. What could have been a fascinating, moral puzzle – where we feel sympathy for the “bad guy” and hate the “good guy” (like the screenplay, I think wants us to do, but Foxx cannot bring himself to play) is undone by the laziness of the Foxx performance.

The movie is director by F. Gary Gray, who has made good action movies in the past (Set It Off, The Negotiator, The Italian Job) and will no doubt do so again, but here, despite the fact that he keeps the movie moving at a fast pace, he is undone by the stupidity of the screenplay. Are there any developments in the movie that you can actually believe would happen in the real world? I didn’t. And the movie wasn’t good enough for me to suspend my disbelief either. Law Abiding Citizen is a movie that could have, and should have, been great. But it is undone by a screenplay that becomes too farfetched to be believed (the last twist is especially egregious) and a central performance that is too boring.

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