Film Review: Law Abiding Citizen

The job of a movie trailer is obviously to entice you to go and see the film. I very rarely make my viewing decisions based on these trailers however, so for a trailer to convince me to head out to the cineplex is has to be something special. For most people the trailer for “Law Abiding Citizen” will seem like another generic thriller and honestly that is what the film is but the fact that Philadelphia, my home town, was the setting for the film really sold me on it. There is nothing wrong with being sold on a trailer provided the film comes through, sadly “Law Abiding Citizen” does not come through.

“Law Abiding Citizen” is a revenge thriller starring Gerard Butler and Jamie Fox. Butler plays Clyde Shelton, a man who witnesses his wife and daughter being brutally murdered during a home invasion. Fox plays Nick Rice, the hot-shot prosecutor tasked with trying the case. In an effort to maintain a high conviction rate, Rice makes a deal with one of the two murderers to guarantee the death penalty for the other murder. This decision obviously does not sit well with Shelton who makes an emotional, yet unsuccessful, plea to Rice to not make the deal.

Fast forward ten years later and during the execution of the one murderer something goes wrong. The execution, which should have been painless is decidedly not so. All clues point to the other of the two murderers as having been the culprit of the “accident”. As police are closing in on him he receives directions from a mysterious caller who helps him escape, albeit directly into the arms of Shelton who brutally dismembers the culprit of his family’s murder. At this point it does not take long for the police to tie Shelton to the murders and he is arrested and that is where things go off the rails as Shelton continues his revenge killings by offing everybody in the system who was associated with the case.

The mystery behind how Shelton is killing people while behind bars should be an interesting one unfortunately poor execution and a confused plot mar an otherwise great idea. Director F. Gary Gray (“Be Cool”, “The Italian Job”) never sets up the film to have a bad guy. This is the biggest issue with the film because the entire movie is set as a perilous game between Rice and Shelton, yet the viewer has no clue who to root for. Do you root for Rice who orchestrated a deal with a murderer or do you root for Shelton who suffered the traumatic loss of his wife and child but is now killing people himself?

Outside of the primary conflict being set up poorly the film falls apart completely over the last act. An anonymous source, that is hardly explained and all too convenient, cracks the case for Rice and Shelton makes uncharacteristic moves that make the ending seem extremely contrived.

To their credit Butler and Fox do well with what they are given but ultimately despite having two fairly strong leads “Law Abiding Citizen” does not work. Shelton’s goal throughout the movie is to teach Rice a lesson which he finally does learn in the last minutes of the film. My goal with this review was to teach you, the reader, a lesson. That lesson is to avoid “Law Abiding Citizen”. Hopefully you got the message.

2 out of 5.

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