Contrived? Maybe. Enjoyable? Yes
News stories of brutal crimes that play over and over on our TV sets often leave us wondering what we might do in the same situations. While watching Law Abiding Citizen, viewers will need to think about right and wrong, but screenwriter Kurt Wimmer constructs a tricky crime thriller that makes those ideals seem impossible to narrow down. Ultimately, no matter which man you root for, Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler create such intense characters itís hard to take one side over the other.
In the first moments of the film, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) quickly reveals heís a great dad and wonderful husband. An engineer who loves to tinker with things, he praises his young daughter as she strings letter cubes to make her mother a necklace. Moments later Clyde answers the doorbell only to be whacked in the head with a baseball bat. Heís tied up and must watch as two invaders rape and kill his wife and murder his young daughter.
Days later, lead prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) makes jokes with his boss, District Attorney Jonas Cantrell (Bruce McGill), about having a near perfect conviction record. Maybe thatís behind his decision not to prosecute one of the criminals who killed Clydeís family -- after all, he turned stateís evidence against his partner. When Clyde challenges Rice over this decision, he receives a blasť answer about not enough evidence.
The movie jumps forward ten years to the execution of one of the killers. Something goes seriously wrong in the death chamber. Clyde then stalks the other criminal -- who walked -- and viciously tortures the man to death. Rice and his team are now on the manhunt for Clyde, but he outsmarts them at every turn. Riceís assistant, Sarah (Leslie Bibb) finds an undercover operative who knows about Clydeís companies and his expertise. He tells Rice, ďIf Clyde wants you dead, youíre dead.Ē
This cat-and-mouse game continues even after Clyde is caught and put in jail. There are some implausible elements in the story, especially since a man canít be put in prison (such as the one shown in the film) without first going to court and being convicted and sentenced. We see nothing like that happening here.
Bars seem no barriers to Clyde, and many of the team who helped free the guilty killer are murdered. The beauty of this scenario involves no one knowing when itís coming and how the justice -- or injustice -- will be done. I saw Law Abiding Citizen twice, and both times the majority of the viewers jumped and gasped at the filmís surprising incidents.
By the third act of the film, itís time to wrestle with oneís conscience. Whoís the guilty one? The prosecutor who let the guilty man go or the victim who crosses the line and takes the law into his own hands. But thatís not easy to answer. Considering Butler delivers such an excellent performance as a brainiac who can outthink a horde of law officials, itís hard not to root for him. With roles in a variety of movies such as 300, Nimís Island and The Phantom of the Opera, heís covered practically every genre. As the diabolical schemer and planner Clyde, his obvious delight in killing could place Butler on equal ground to play a Hannibal Lecter character.
Foxx (The Soloist) doesnít offer anything extraordinary in his role here. McGill (Obsessed) is very believable as an observant District Attorney whoís always under control, but Viola Davis (Doubt) has little screen time to make an impact as the cityís mayor. Filmmaker F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) heightens a sense of anticipation with his deft direction. Surprisingly, there are also some amusing scenes in the movie.
Although not satisfied with how the movie ends, I did enjoy Law Abiding Citizen. Some critics are calling the film contrived, pervasively absurd, lacking in social graces, and having lunatic plotting. However, while walking slowly to exit from my two screenings, I overheard viewers giving high praise for the movieís scare factor and surprise elements.
(Released by Overture Films and rated ďRĒ for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.