Tuesday 21 June 2022

Movie Review: Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

An action thriller, Law Abiding Citizen poses tough questions about the justice system then wades into a murky puddle of muddled loyalties.

In Philadelphia, government employee Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) witnesses the murder of his wife and daughter in a violent home invasion by criminals Ames and Darby. The assailants are arrested and charged; Ames is sentenced to death, but as a result of a plea bargain approved by prosecuting attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), Darby escapes with nothing more than a five year prison sentence.

Ten years later, Ames suffers a painful death in a botched execution by lethal injection. Darby is kidnaped and tortured to death by Clyde, who then surrenders. Nick and his boss District Attorney Jonas Cantrell (Bruce McGill) try to extract a confession, but Clyde is just starting an elaborate revenge plot targeting Nick and the entire flawed justice system. 

Half of an entertaining vigilante thriller, Law Abiding Citizen starts with a bang. Director F. Gary Gray and writer Kurt Wimmer create an unflinching nightmare as, in short order, Clyde loses everything then suffers again at the hands of a misfiring judicial process. The 10-year zip forward is effective, and the uncompromising revenge extracted upon the home invaders sets up what should have been a hard-hitting second half.

But towards the middle of the film Gray loses control. Law Abiding Citizen stalls in a series of increasingly far-fetched murders and atrocities veering well away from any rational vendetta. Clyde psychologically drifts from likeable victim seeking elaborate but morally justified revenge towards a mayhem-loving psychopath, while an awkward and ultimately unsuccessful U-turn attempts to place Nick at the plot's sympathetic centre. The unsatisfying climax short-changes both men and challenges time and space logic.

Despite the notable fade, many memorable moments are on offer, including a gotcha courtroom meltdown, a bloody jail cell episode, and a dangerous phone call in a judge's office. Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx contribute plenty of presence without needing to stretch. They are well supported by Leslie Bibb as an up-and-coming prosecutor, Regina Hall as Nick's wife, and Viola Davis as a Mayor increasingly concerned by the explosion of violence in her city.

Law Abiding Citizen is first a man with a plan, then pain without gain.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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