Sunday, October 18, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN (F. Gary Gray, 2009)

In LAW ABIDING CITIZEN Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) watches helplessly as two intruders murder his wife and daughter. Clyde feels similarly powerless when city prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) cuts a deal with one of the killers. It's just business as usual in the district attorney's office, but the apparent injustice and the inequity--one man receives the death penalty, the other gets a shortened sentence--enrages Clyde.

Ten years later he avenges his family by tampering with the execution to make it more painful and abducting, torturing, and killing the criminal who cut a plea. Clyde's revenge doesn't stop when he's arrested and imprisoned. Even from behind bars he takes out his anger on everyone involved with the case and threatens to bring down the entire justice system.

The diverting garbage that is LAW ABIDING CITIZEN would be more deplorable if it were possible to take this wholly implausible film seriously. Butler's Joker-like character terrorizes and kills those in the judicial and legal establishment because of his dissatisfaction with the system.

Ordinarily he would be the villain, but LAW ABIDING CITIZEN'S sympathies are clearly with him. Forget due process. Forget civil rights. Forget the underpinnings of society. This is an angry film in which one man's perception of injustice rationalizes engaging in the cold-blooded murder of anyone peripherally involved with the case and promoting lawlessness as an appropriate response.

To feed the lust for blood and anarchy director F. Gary Gray stacks the deck in the first scene. He shows Clyde's family being killed and suggests the rape of the wife and possibly the daughter. Of course this puts the audience in Clyde's corner, but the leap from wanting just punishment to advocating the deaths of the defense, prosecution, and other government employees goes beyond the pale.

As inflammatory as the film sounds, LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is too preposterous to be dangerous. Clyde's apparent ability to be anywhere at any time while locked up defies logic, as does the film's inevitable explanation.

Grade: C-

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