Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: F. Gary Gray

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill, Leslie Bibb, Michael Irby, Gregory Itzin, Regina Hall

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 10/16/09

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Law Abiding Citizen is at the top of its game when it pits Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler against each other in a contest of words, airs of confidence, and general chest thumping of simplistic but effective ethical ponderings. They're both strong actors, whose characters here are set opposed to each other in a battle of wills and ideologies.

Their scenes early in the movie set a flame under what is—at that moment—an already effectively paced and shot little potboiler about a man dedicated to the law and another driven to break the law because of the cracks in the system of said law. It's actually a neat, if recognizable, little conflict—one that engages the brain and stirs up the blood. I must iterate that it is during those earlier moments that Law Abiding Citizen does this.

Foxx plays Nick Rice, a hotshot Philadelphia assistant district attorney, who, ten years ago, made a deal with a devil of a man to get another devil of a man the death penalty. For his testimony against the other, the first devil of a man got three years in prison.

The two devils of men killed Clyde Shelton's, the Butler character, wife and daughter in front of him. Nick told Clyde there was some problem with the evidence, and that even if Clyde were to testify in court, it might be possible that both men walked free. So Nick made the deal, and Clyde was not happy with that.

Now Clyde is rigging up the lethal injection machine to insure that his wife and daughter's murderer doesn't enjoy what's guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment, paralyzing the other killer before cutting him up in a couple dozen pieces, and patiently waiting for the cops to come pick him up.

So begins the punchy scenes between Nick and Clyde, where the attorney thinks he has Clyde dead to rights, but Clyde begins to pull some sly legal tricks by not outright confessing but making clear he's responsible for the deaths of the two men and demanding a deal in exchange for his confession. He wants a nice mattress for his bunk in prison.

Foxx has an extremely assured persona on screen, and his performance here calls for him to slowly lose it in exchange for complete befuddlement at Clyde's plan, which soon includes a nice steak dinner, some music outside his cell, and two more dead bodies—his cellmate and the lawyer who represented one of his wife and daughter's killers.

The latter is found hooked up to some IVs in a hole in the ground after Clyde tells Nick and the police exactly where to look in exchange for his steak. The setup was set to a timer, but unfortunately for the mouthpiece, Clyde's dinner was late.

There's some crafty ethical play at work in the movie's favor, including a scene in court where Clyde cites legal precedents to earn bail. When the judge begins to turn in his favor, Clyde rails against her: "This is why we're here in the first place."

It's crafty, clever, and engaging, and director F. Gary Gray revels in letting his actors have their grandstanding moments. Foxx and Butler do a great job balancing them out with the intellectual appeals amidst the melodrama.

Then, it all turns sour. The plot devolves to contrivances that start to muddle the ethics into pure black and white. Clyde's games, entertaining in their mystery at the beginning, become more outrageous. He apparently modifies a cell phone into a gun, sends a remote-controlled machine gun to kill another victim, and has an elaborate series of car bombs go off outside the prison.

There's also the appearance of a shady government agent who explains Clyde's abilities with a murky history in black ops. If someone wanted someone dead, Clyde could do it without being in the room. The only way to end all of this, the agent tells Nick, is to kill Clyde.

Clyde's reach extends higher, and he reveals a plot to bring down the entire legal system. The mayor (Viola Davis) randomly appears, yells at Nick, tells him to stop the madman, but the eventual shift from uncertain ethics to basic good and evil is admittedly less insulting than the way the movie amps up the plot machinations to justify the turnaround.

Law Abiding Citizen is a frustrating example of an intriguing premise and skillful execution gone formula. It is a shame, too, because it's a good deal of guilty fun for a while.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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