Review: LAW ABIDING CITIZEN
Have you ever felt slighted by the law? Felt like justice wasn’t served, or that the law was working more in their own favor than in yours? This is the underlying theme, the philosophical question at hand, which runs throughout LAW ABIDING CITIZEN. This is a movie whose title I felt was lacking, until I saw the film and it made more sense.
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is a smart, tense thriller that keeps the audience at the edge of their seats and keeps us guessing. Not since FRACTURE, starring Anthony Hopkins, have I felt this engrossed by a legal cat-and-mouse thriller. The story makes it difficult to fully take one side or the other, painting the ambiguous nature of our imperfect legal system in endless shades of gray.
The movie was directed by F. Gary Gray (FRIDAY, A MAN APART, BE COOL) and opens with a teeth-clenching down note that inspires anger and sympathy towards the Clyde’s situation immediately. The main character, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler), is spending an evening at home with his wife and daughter when unexpected company arrives and in a matter of moments, destroys everything Clyde had to live for.
With Clyde’s family dead, he relies on prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) to make the justice system work and give him some tiny bit of closure in the matter, but what he finds instead is proof of just how corrupt the system is when Nick makes a deal with the man who killed his family, granting him a relatively easy 3-5 years in prison on a charge of third-degree murder in exchange for testifying against his partner.
Flash forward ten years, Nick Rice has moved on to a bigger, brighter career as a prosecutor with a 96% conviction rate, but when the man sent to death row for the murder of Clyde’s family receives his lethal injection, what is supposed to be a painless, human death sentence becomes a brutally vivid display of excruciating pain. This sparks an investigation of who could have sabotaged the system. What Nick Cave and everyone involved with Clyde’s case soon realize, is that they’ve just become pieces of an elaborate statement by Clyde Shelton, a lesson is ethics and morals and the lack thereof within the legal system.
What I’ve discovered is that Gerard Butler (300, ROCKNROLLA) is rapidly becoming a new favorite actor of mine. No, not because of his ridiculously intimidating abs, but because he always brings a depth to his roles that would otherwise feel shallow and superficial. Butler conveys the mixed emotions, troubled conscience and the passionate drive of Clyde to make his point powerfully evident and convincing. We understand why Clyde is doing what he does in the film, even empathize with him a bit, but we also realize that he’s crossing all kinds of lines in doing so, making him a character who straddles the line of good and evil, right and wrong, just and unjust.
Jamie Foxx (RAY, THE SOLOIST) once again delivers an acceptable performance, generally on par with his previous dramatic outings, but still fails to connect with me as a A-list thespian. Foxx certainly strives to deliver, that’s evident, but I have yet to see a performance from him that actually feels genuine rather than a actor trying too hard. The delicate art of making a performance look natural and believable still eludes Jamie Foxx, but he certainly deserves credit for the effort given.
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is primarily a squaring off between Nick Cave and Clyde Shelton, both of whom are trying to prove the other wrong, steadfast in their beliefs and convictions while also struggling internally with their own decisions. This is a dog fight and the arena is the legal system. It’s a deadly game of chess whereas Clyde is the master of the game, toying with Nick Rice as he attempts to piece together the puzzle of how Clyde is able to accomplish his devastating agenda from behind bars.
A few familiar faces show up in the film’s supporting cast, including Colm Meaney (STAR TREK: DSN, LAYER CAKE) as Detective Dunnigan, Bruce McGill (CINDERELLA MAN, VANTAGE POINT) as District Attorney Jonas Cantrell and Viola Davis (DISTURBIA, DOUBT) as the Mayor of Philadelphia. LAW ABIDING CITIZEN was written by Kurt Wimmer, something of a veteran of the action-thriller genre, adding this to his list of screenplays including SPHERE, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, EQUILIBRIUM and THE RECRUIT.
Speaking of action, the film has it’s share but isn’t driven by it, instead focusing on the mental game. This well-written story culminates with a climactic ending that is refreshing and original, if not mostly unpredictable. The suspense, the tension and the mystery of revealing Clyde’s methods are what make LAW ABIDING CITIZEN such an enjoyable movie and potentially one of the most widely satisfying box office offerings this year. The film is accessible to all audiences and has the makings of a sure-fire financial hit.