Law Abiding Citizen is a certified disappointment, a promising premise squandered as an opportunity to tell another revenge movie with an implausible ending.
Gerard Butler, who also produced, is average as Clyde Shelton, a helpless father who watches in anguish as his wife and daughter are brutally murdered during a home invasion. As a witness he’s more than willing to testify, but the DNA evidence is somehow “inconclusive” and the case against his attackers is inexplicably not a “slam dunk” for the prosecution.
The state’s attorney assigned to the double murder, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), is presented with the dilemma of allowing one criminal to testify against his accomplice in exchange for a ridiculously reduced plea bargain. At this point you feel for Clyde, who has just witnessed another injustice as one man gets the death penalty and the other, the true killer, gets a legal slap on the wrist.
Though Rice isn’t quite the compassionate, moral defender put in a tough situation. Instead he’s portrayed as a walking power suit of arrogance and apathy, hoping only to raise his conviction rate rather than deliver justice.
What’s worse is Foxx sleepwalks through the lines and may as well be checking the watch he purchased with this movie’s paycheck. His stoic expression rarely changes, even as bodies start dropping all around him. Might I remind you that you’re under oath Oscar, counselor?
This only leaves Clyde as the protagonist, an everyman with sympathy on his side. Even when he enacts his Saw-like revenge on his assailants they are moments of gory vindication for a grieving, typically law abiding citizen.
Then Clyde, who is picked up in connection with the deaths, starts needlessly killing anyone else that had to do with the trial (all government officials). So much for the anti-hero vigilante angle. Now it’s the audience who is left with the difficult choice of who to root for. The remorseless man on a spree from the confines of a prison cell, or the bored lawyer not smart enough to keep an eye on the only suspect.
A vengeful victim is transformed into a disposable madman with each weak speech about the justice system and making things right. He’s Hannibal Lecter without the bite and psychological banter or John Doe from Se7en without a purpose.
The poor execution is partially the fault of director F. Gary Gray, but that doesn’t pardon screenwriter Kurt Wimmer who writes himself into a corner only to bust out with an eye-roller of an ending that effectively negates any intelligent commentary on the justice system. Instead Law Abiding Citizen is an easy excuse for violence and cheap thrills. I move to strike it from the record!
2 out of 5.