Revenge is a dish best served cold, but I don’t think Gerard Butler (Gamer, The Ugly Truth) got the memo. You see, he likes to serve it up boiling hot. In Law Abiding Citizen he portrays Clyde Shelton, a man who is victimized twice. First by the brutes who savagely murder his family right before his eyes, and then again by a misguided justice system, represented by an ambivalent district attorney. Jamie Foxx (The Kingdom, The Soloist) plays district attorney Nick Rice, a prosecutor more concerned with his winning percentage than attaining real justice for Shelton.
Shelton watched helplessly as his family fell victim to a gruesome home invasion, and was nearly killed himself. He’s pleased when the district attorney tells him that one of the perpetrators will get the death penalty, but that relief is short-lived. The other perpetrator who delivered the actual death blows will only serve a few years in prison because he cut a deal. Rice informs Shelton that this is better than going to trial, where acquittal is always a possibility. He actually made the deal without even consulting Shelton beforehand. Feeling ignored and helpless, the wheels are set in motion for Shelton to avenge his family’s murder and his own shabby treatment. He bides his time and then brings the pain in a way that is both horrific and creative. Think Joker in The Dark Knight mixed with Jigsaw from the Saw movies. I’ve told you all that and still haven’t told you anything you didn’t gather from the trailer, so don’t worry. The suspense lies not in what Shelton does, but in how he does it. He allows himself to be apprehended and imprisoned, but still manages to wreak havoc on those with the most tangential connection to the atrocity carried out on his family.
Jamie Foxx is serviceable in this role, but I can’t say he was impressive. I don’t think the role required much, and he did show flashes of charisma, but Butler was a more compelling figure. I also don’t view this movie as a Jamie Foxx vehicle, rather it seems more like this was just a movie that he was in, if that makes any sense. He received top billing and has the hardware to back it up, so I want to be riveted by him, and that was not the case. Nevertheless, Law Abiding Citizen is a movie most will enjoy. It taps into the frustration we have with an ineffective criminal justice system and the vigilante that lies within all of us. Make no mistake though, Shelton is no hero. We all can understand avenging the death of a child, and Foxx’s character even commends him privately for his actions, at first. Things go awry when Shelton begins to target those less directly associated with his family’s murder and begins to kill innocent people to bring down the larger bureaucracy. This made for an intriguing anti-hero dynamic, as it’s unclear for whom the viewer should cheer. Shelton avenges his family’s death, but is still committing cold-blooded murder so you can only root for him up to a point. Rice is supposed to be the “good guy” lawman, but he clearly dropped the ball with Shelton’s case, so you can’t exactly cheer for him either. Director F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator, Set it Off) makes a nice return to the silver screen and is an underrated filmmaker. He has proven adept at sustaining suspense throughout a movie without overdoing the cheap tricks like Michael Bay. A well-placed explosion is great, but the primary focus should be on the story, and Gray steadily advanced the plot. All in all, Law Abiding Citizen is worth the $10, and I give it my stamp of approval.
This article first appeared at http://poptimal.com/2009/10/law-abiding-citizen/ and was reprinted with permission.