Law Abiding Citizen

How far would you go in order to fix a justice system that is so broken it would allow some evil to go relatively unpunished? That question is the driving force behind the newest action thriller from director F. Gary Gray (“Four Brothers”), “Law Abiding Citizen”, starring Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx.

“Law Abiding Citizen” is the story of a family man named Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) whose entire life is torn apart when his wife and young daughter are brutally murdered in front of him. Seeking justice through the legal system, Clyde is shocked when he learns that up-and-coming Philadelphia prosecutor, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) has cut a deal with one of the killers in order to get a confession and heftier sentence for the other offender. Ten years pass by, and mysteriously the two killers are murdered and Clyde is more than happy to confess to their grisly deaths. However, their deaths were only the beginning as Clyde issues an ultimatum that will shake Philadelphia and its arrogant prosecutor to their core.

When the premise of a movie is an attempt to right the wrongs of the legal system, what are the chances that the movie remains realistic? By my estimation, the likelihood of such an absurdly sounding concept for a movie succeeding is slim to none. Surprisingly, this twisted morality tale written by Kurt Wimmer (“Equilibrium”) never becomes an exercise in absurdity, although there are a few moments where one does begin to wonder if it might.

Assisting in keeping the film on track is the fact that the story moves along at a brisk pace. Thus, the audience is never really allowed time to fully contemplate the semi-ridiculous nature of the premise. I mean are we really going to believe that one man can change the legal system, seriously? Besides that the characters are very well written, effectively gaining your interest from the very beginning. The two leads alone provide some very entertaining verbal sparring sessions throughout the duration. If the characters hadn’t been handled in such a captivating and true-to-life manner then I doubt the story could have succeeded in remaining grounded in some semblance of reality.

Of course, what would an action thriller be without great action sequences? Well, it would be rather boring, obviously. The action set pieces in this film are so elaborately designed, with great attention to detail, that you can’t help but be impressed by the sheer creativity on display. The ingenuity within these scenes made the movie even more engaging for me. Had the action been handled in a lazy manner, resulting in a run-of-the-mill series of explosions or gunfights, the movie would have quickly begun to lose its appeal. After all, who wants to see the same old crap over and over again? Certainly not me, but that’s what so many of these action movies tend to throw at us, but thankfully “Law Abiding Citizen” does not fall prey to this particular pratfall.

Bringing the mayhem to life is Hollywood’s current reigning “It” guy, Gerard Butler (“300”). With his character of Clyde Shelton, Gerard could have easily made the mistake of going overboard with the anger and aggression. If that had happened then Clyde would have become more of an insulting caricature of a man consumed by his hatred and grief; instead, he remains relatively low-key throughout, thus keeping him relatable. It’s a testament to Gerard’s acting ability that despite all the carnage his character has wrought, you still sympathize with the man and in a twisted way, root for him. That is a rare feat in movies, and one I’m surprised they achieved here.

On the other side of the mayhem, is actor Jamie Foxx (“Collateral”) as hot-shot prosecutor Nick Rice. Jamie plays Rice with the appropriate blend of arrogance, caring, and determination. Jamie continues to deliver solid performances as an actor, and just like Gerard Butler’s character, there are times you may find yourself surprised you’re sympathizing with this man. Even though Nick’s choices set many of the movie’s events into motion, the story gives you ample time to understand his mindset, and as a result you find yourself rooting for him as well.

I found it very strange that this movie was able to make me root for both of the lead characters throughout most of the film; especially with them being on opposing sides. It’s not often when I see a movie that would leave me satisfied no matter the outcome, but “Law Abiding Citizen” manages to be one such movie.

Featuring great performances, elaborately staged action set pieces, and a fast-moving, gritty storyline, “Law Abiding Citizen” is a taut and intense thrill ride that will have you riveted from start to finish.

“Law Abiding Citizen” is rated R for violence and language.

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