Starring: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill, Leslie Bibb
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writer(s): Kurt Wimmer
Cinematography: Jonathan Sela
Original Score: Brian Tyler
Running Time: 109 Mins.
As Gerard Butler bounces between trashy action film as a cut price Statham (and thats not a compliment) and even trashier rom-coms, he is fast losing that star credibility and presence he gained in (the largely over-rated) 300. Judging by the title Law Abiding Citizen I would imagine you know which of the two Butler personalities we have on display here, however hard it wants to parade around as a film with some sort of moral agenda.
Effectively adding itself to the ever growing number of revenge vigilante thrillers that have been doing the rounds in their abundance recently, ranging from the very good, Harry Brown, to the downright awful The Punisher: Warzone, though even t their worst revenge plots always seem to hold a level (however low!) of guilty pleasure based enjoyment and Law Abiding Citizen on this count is no exception.
Cutting to the chase rather quickly and very abruptly we see Clyde Shelton’s (Butler’s) family murdered and raped whilst he lay helpless on the floor gagged and bound. Cut forward to a shady dealing regarding the two murderers Jamie Foxx’s lawyer Nick Cave, and a contrivance that sees the more vicious of the two get off with a slight prison sentence and the other condemned to execution, cut forward again ten years and we see the execution go nastily wrong, imagine The Green Mile’s sabotaged execution by way of lethal injection.
As of this point we realise that Shelton has decided to take the retribution into his own hands, though not personally as it would seem other than an initial and rather nasty torture and murder of one individual. Instead Shelton plays a cat and mouse game with Foxx’s lawyer turned assistant district attorney. locked in a jail cell Butler comes across as Hannibal Lector with a touch of Jigsaw about him, but without either of the charisma or interesting features of those two icons.
Having eliminated the actual murderers the main crux of the film places its morals or what is right and wrong in the legal system, you see Shelton’s gripes are more at odds with the system that saw the murderers not face the deserved justice rather than the murderers themselves. This poses a great many questions and in this idea lay a very interesting dilemma, raising issues of evidence over human testimony but once touched up the film just turns and decides to become one action set piece after another as orchestrated by Shelton, culminating in the most ridiculous and implausible of endings.
It is frustrating that in the hands of another director and writer Law Abiding Citizen could have become more than just a film about revenge, something that questioned what it is to put your trust in the legal system, but with the sledgehammer subtlety of Gray (who was behind the weak Italian Job remake) all hope for anything approaching subtle is all but lost, and even though the constant barrage of violence and explosions kept me watching I couldn’t help but yearn for something a little more substantial given the cleverer and more visceral film hinted at.
It is alleged that Butler was to play the role Foxx does in the finished product and for my money this really would have made little difference either way, and my personal opinion is that Butler should stick to more likeable roles as his charm can carry him through the limited acting prowess he seems to display, either that or a spartan beard! Foxx who was so good in The Soloist is back to his cocky self, albeit in a much more enjoyable way than he has been in the past (Collateral being the other exception) but as with Shelton the character is written so thinly with a severe lack of much in the way of likeability, you are left wondering who you are meant to be rooting for. This in itself this would be a clever ploy were it intentional, but here it just smacks of the inept laziness of the film as a whole.
The best thing to be said about Law Abiding Citizen is that it approaches an interesting topic, then sledgehammers itself through it with once ridiculous set piece after another, Butler is not a man charismatic enough to carry a lead role that required either more charisma or cleverness and sadly he seems incapable of applying either quality. But there are lots of explosions and gore, one to mark in the” awful guilty pleasure” pile then!