Saturday, October 17, 2009

'Law Abiding Citizen' mixes bloody depravity with zinger plot payoff


By Steve Crum


Law Abiding Citizen, directed by F. Gary Gray, is best described as a pretty demented hybrid of the Charles Bronson Death Wish movies and the 1939 Boris Karloff starrer, The Man They Could Not Hang. Revenge is the central theme in each film, with Law Abiding Citizen taking bloodthirsty honors as the most violent of the three. Hybrid seems too civil a word to describe it.

Despite the gore, which is marginally justified to drive the revenge aspect, the film is worth seeing for the clever plot turn finale as well as above average performances by leads Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler. Let me add that most audiences used to graphic violence in the Saw movies and the like will not find Law Abiding Citizen problematic in regard to its grossness. 

Previous to this butchery, we are shown at film’s opening a happy home of dad, mom and young daughter. As the father, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler), answers his front door, he is slammed in the face with a club wielded by one of two thugs who are invading his home. It is a fast paced scene showing both Shelton down as his wife is beaten and tied up near him. His little girl wanders in the front room, and one of the bad guys makes a deviant comment about her as he takes her into another room. Fade out from this horrific scene. I mention this opening in some detail, not to spoil it, but because it is obviously so disgusting and upsetting to the audience that we are passionately sympathetic to Shelton. 

The plot crux is presented. Shelton’s pleas to sentence both criminals to death are ignored by the district attorney, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx). Like Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey Death Wish character, Shelton feels he must carry out justice on his own. This all plays into his clever revenge scheme.

The Man They Could Not Hang, mentioned earlier, includes Karloff’s criminal taking revenge on virtually everyone, including the judge, connected to his execution--which he has somehow survived. Shelton, soon to be a criminal himself, plots against virtually everyone connected with his case. Each violent act is meticulously planned and executed. There is no better word choice here than executed.

In the meantime, Shelton is sent to prison for one of his murders. While incarcerated, the revenge killings continue, many on elaborate scale using machine guns and sophisticated explosives. As Rice’s legal associates and friends get killed, he knows he and his family could be next.

By the film’s third act, even the audience wonders how Shelton is pulling off the murders, especially while he is in solitary confinement. It puzzled me, and of course the payoff is the answer to the how. Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay gets kudos for the clever twist to it all. I have to mention there is a faint similarity between Shelton’s secret and Gerard Butler’s domain in The Phantom of the Opera, in which he played the title role. Whether Wimmer had this on his mind when writing the script is an unknown, phantom query.
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On an A to F Grade Scale: B-
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