Law Abiding Citizen
One of the most difficult things in relating a story in a film is the motivation of the characters. One of my best friends is an aspirating screen writer and she pours over her words for countless hours looking for just the right motivation to attribute to each of her characters. This may sound easy but after watching her write and screening countless films were such attention was not paid, I have come to the conclusion this is an arduous task. The writer has to be able to balance events and situations that provide a believable foundation for the story while allowing the circumstances sufficient flexibility to afford the audience a fresh, exciting experience. This lofty goal is frequently attempted but, unfortunately, seldom achieved. All types of films are subject to this but a few appear to be particularly susceptible to such foibles. One hard hit of late is the psychological thriller. American films have taken a turn decidedly towards the visceral; a methodology that is overwhelmingly conducive to special effects and visual shocks. While this is valid to punctuate such a movie it makes a poor foundation on its own merits. With the recent film ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ there are a number of missteps and outright mistakes but underlying it all I felt there was an honest attempt to do this tricky genre correctly. Still, with that stated the film as more than the usual difficulties engaging the audience. One note that goes a long way to redeem this film is the story provides an excellent stage to present a couple of intense performances by two of the leading actors of this generation. I realize that this film received a sizable amount of bad critical reaction and while there is some validity to those objections overall the film is more than realistic as a Friday evening beer and pizza flick. There are movies were it is far better to sit back and enjoy instead of analyzing on a frame by frame basis; this is such a movie. It is like a painting where you have to take a few steps back to see properly. This is a film to enjoy as an experience instead of deconstructing it too much.
The author of the script is Kurt Wimmer, a man with rather extensive experience with this type of film. Most of his screenplays were in the crime thriller genre like the remake of ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ and ‘Street Kings’ and science fiction oriented thrillers that included ‘Sphere’ and ‘Ultraviolet". The thing here is Wimmer explores a couple of usual themes with interesting twists. People respond well to a well crafted revenge story. Everyone has and a time in their lives when they feel they have fallen victim to some terrible affront or miscarriage of justice. Unfortunately the legal system tends to frown on extracting your own measure of revenge. A film about vigilantism provides a break from civilization and return to the overly idealized days of the Old West. This may seem to be a bit twisted but there is a cathartic release for the stabile citizen. ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ has a title designed to invoke this feel with the audience.
For Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) life had been treating me pretty well. He is a brilliantly innovative and creative man blessed with a loving wife (Brooke Stacy Mills) and daughter (Ksenia Hulayev). One night a group of burglars break into their home brutally attacking the family leaving Clyde gravely injured and his family murdered. It was only natural that he wanted to see the men responsible for destroying his life not only brought to justice but suffer. This measure of revenge id denied to him because of an overly ambitious Assistant DA Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx). Rice is more concerned with his conviction rate and future career advancement than a minor detail like allowing Clyde the closure he so badly needs. He sets out on a vigilante rage not only against the criminals but the exalted officers of the court that cut the deal with the murderers. There is a point where the film panders to the torture horror flick fans with a few scenes that rival the ‘Saw’ franchise for sheer gory effects. It does take a decade for Clyde to get started but it has been said that revenge is a dish best served cold. There are some interesting twisted based on one of the more difficult plot devices to pull off, the closed door mystery. Clyde is extremely resourceful in how he manages to extract his revenge.
While there are aspects of the story that just fail to mesh properly or come across at pushing the limits of credibility. The direction by F. Gary Gray is cohesive; something not often demonstrated by someone whose prior experience has been the direction of music videos. Usually those directors have a difficult time maintain the narrative properly for the entirety of s feature length film. Gray does get right into things pushing past the original crime by not getting too graphic at that point and breezing through the first revenge killing where the man taking the fall has an extremely painful execution. He allows the film to become a taut cat and mouse game between Clyde and Rice. What allows this to work out so well is the sheer talent of butler and Foxx. The moral dilemma they manage to develop is that the audience can understand the motivation that drives both men. While Shelton is possessed by the naturally understandable need for retribution Rice is driven by the equally understandable trying to make his way through a badly broken legal system where an Assistant District Attorney has to make deals like this to remain viably effective in his career.
The movie is extremely well filmed with excellent work by cinematographer Jonathan Sela who has done many action oriented flicks before this. He shows a keen eye for interesting use of lighting and the composition of each frame. The Blu-ray version of this makes incredible use of the format showcasing the vibrant colors and amazing contrast. The Dolby True HD is simply put exceptional. The sound field is robust and fills the room. Not only does each of the speakers get a workout but the suv woofer comes alive to punctuate the solemn mood of the work. Yes, the film is flawed but it is also entertaining if you can get pass the horror film aspects.