LAW ABIDING CITIZEN
***1/2 (out of 5)
October 16, 2009
Jamie Foxx as NICK RICE
Gerard Butler as CLYDE SHELTON
Colm Meaney as DETECTIVE DUNNIGAN
Bruce McGill as JONAS CANTRELL
Leslie Bibb as SARAH LOWELL
Studio: Overture Films
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
After seeing “Law Abiding Citizen” a few weeks back, I told a friend that it was 90 percent awesome and 10 percent just okay. Upon reflection, that is about as fair of a review as I can give.
The film tells the story of Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler), a mild-mannered husband whose wife and daughter are assaulted and murdered during a home invasion. After years of the justice system, only one of the attackers is given the death penalty when the other culprit strikes a deal with an up-and-coming prosecutor named Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx). Shelton isn’t happy, so he sabotages the lethal injection process to make it painful and lethal, then he kidnaps and brutally kills the other that got away.
Soon, Rice tracks Shelton down and puts him in jail. However, Shelton has a secret. Soon, officials who were connected to the justice deal are targeted by Shelton while he’s in jail. It’s up to Rice to figure out how he’s attacking everyone from the lawyers to the judge before the entire justice system is taken down.
Let’s start with the 90 percent awesomeness. As a husband and parent, I can completely relate to Clyde Shelton’s plight. If someone did this to my family, I would be relentless and hunt them down. I can’t say I’d try to take down the justice system in the process, but I can sympathize with the character’s zeal in thinking that things are broken.
In this sense, I found myself rooting for Shelton through most – if not all – of the film. Sure, it’s a fictionalized warping of the criminal justice system, but the film effectively plays off the fear that everyone has that their loved ones will get hurt and there will be no punishment to fit the crime.
We’ve seen movies like this before – from “Death Wish” to “Death Sentence.” “Law Abiding Citizen” is framed in a unique way, making the focus of the film a mystery of how Shelton manages to kill people from inside a prison cell. It’s a guessing game with plenty of twists – some you should see and some you might not.
The story really kept me on the edge of my seat. I liked where it was going, and I hoped throughout the movie that it wouldn’t chicken out…
Here’s where the last ten percent of being just okay kicks in. Jamie Foxx is held up as the hero, but the character of Nick Rice is not very heroic through much of the movie. He represents everything that is wrong with the criminal justice system, toying with people’s lives, going for plea bargains and under-the-table dealings rather than punishing the guilty. He’s a cocky S.O.B., and Shelton really takes him down a few pegs.
Director F. Gary Gray had a real opportunity on his hand, which was to make the modern version of David Fincher’s “Se7en.” Unfortunately, he fumbles the ball during the final act. I’m not sure if this was his own decision or that of the studio. Will this make “Law Abiding Citizen” a more successful movie? Possibly, but it hurt the plot and concept a bit.
I hate to use the term “sell out” in regards to Gray’s handling of the film’s ending, but let’s just say that the last fifteen minutes of the film is not entirely in sync with the first hour and a half. Writer Kurt Wimmer assembled a great script, but where the first part was gritty, powerful, thought-provoking and cathartic, the last bit made me think of his stinker from last year, “Street Kings.”
In the end, “Law Abiding Citizen” is a pretty good film, but it had a chance at greatness that never came to fruition. But don’t that stop you from seeing it.