Law Abiding Citizen (the film not the citizen) is one of those films that could be enjoyable if in the right frame of mind. Don’t think about the plot holes or the political slant. Forget the self-righteousness and accept it for what it is – an above-average thriller with big-name actors and a few solid moments, but at the end of the day, a pretty forgettable affair.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind. To me, Law Abiding Citizen came off like a film that believed it was much better than it actually was. With a few tweaks and in the right hands, I think it could have been pretty special.
It’s hard to describe this movie without giving away the plot. Oscar winner Jamie Foxx plays prosecutor Nick Rice, and Gerard Butler plays engineer Clyde Shelton. Law Abiding Citizen is part revenge-movie, part battle-of-wits. There’s definitely a bit of Saw in there as well. It feels like the type of film you’ve seen many times before, but you can’t quite put your finger on when or where (just off the top of my head I can sense fragments of Public Enemies and Fracture in it).
Anyway, I really liked the premise of Law Abiding Citizen, though the impact of the introductory scenes weren’t as strong as I thought it would be. I then had to block the whole spiel on the injustice of the legal system out of my mind because it was waaay over-simplified, and more importantly, it was handled with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. If I had let that get to me, then the whole film would have gone down the drain right there. When it comes to the law, I think most viewers are too savvy to buy into this kind of manipulative stuff so easily these days.
Then came the first couple of notable ‘incidents’, which I thought panned out pretty well. The two big stars were beginning to stand toe-to-toe and the film was starting to get interesting. Their exchanges were full of tension and it made me wonder what improbable thing would happen next.
However, at some point, the excitement simply dried up. Big problem – because once you have some time to think about it all, the holes start appearing and you realise how trite the whole thing is. The sad way the film fizzled in the end didn’t exactly help its cause either.
So ultimately, I was a bit disappointed with Law Abiding Citizen. Not because of its political messages or its over-simplification of some very complicated issues, but because it didn’t feel nearly as good as it should have been. Which is a surprise because director F Gary Gray was at the helm of The Negotiator (a classic in my opinion) and the solid The Italian Job. Writer Kurt Wimmer is no slouch either, having worked on Sphere, The Recruit and Street Kings (none of which were terrific but by no means horrible). Even Gerard Butler and (especially) Jamie Foxx, who are both usually excellent, didn’t quite click into full gear for some reason.
I can’t explain why the pieces didn’t fall together like they should have, but Law Abiding Citizen made me wish it was much better than it really was.
2.5 stars out of 5!