Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Viola Davis
F. Gary Gray
Serving as an ever so slightly more intelligent take on the "Saw" theme, in which killing is not simply justified but socially responsible, "Law-Abiding Citizen" starts off in fourth gear when the wife and daughter of Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) are brutally murdered. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), an up-and-coming Philly prosecutor is forced by his boss to plea bargain with one suspect in exchange for testimony against the other, ultimately less culpable, suspect.
Fast forward 10 years and the suspect who plea bargained is murdered and Shelton confesses to the crime and, from behind bars, makes everyone aware that unless the system is fixed the killings will continue.
Of course, they do.
With touches of "Death Wish" and "Saw" firmly in grasp, "Law-Abiding Citizen" tries hard to convince us that the film is an importance social statement. Instead, "Law-Abiding Citizen" is nothing more than torture porn with a conscience and starring a better cast than is usually caught doing these types of films.
The problem that I have with a film such as "Law-Abiding Citizen" is that it purports to be mainstream cinema, a serious film with a serious theme running through its cinematic veins rather than a "Saw," which is rather brutally honest about its intentions to shock and devastate audiences. While the notion of a failing system failing to serve actual justice isn't really a shocking proposition, "Law-Abiding Citizen" tries to convince us that somehow a grieving, vengeful father and spouse 10-years removed from the crime is somehow justified in manifesting the same types of slaughter inflicted in his own life.
Who's worse, a lawyer who who fails to bring two killers fully to justice or a father/spouse who takes justice into his own hands and ultimately doles out justice through his own eyes?
"Law-Abiding Citizen" clearly sides with Clyde Shelton and is betting that audiences will make a similar choice.
Foxx gives "Law-Abiding Citizen" his best shot here, but Gerard Butler seems to have trouble finding an emotional grounding from which to work and certainly never seems to tap into the rage and grief of a bereaved parent/spouse. It doesn't help that Kurt Wimmer's script is formulaic to the max, forcing Butler and Foxx to both mutter words that would feel right at home on any 60-minute television drama. Supporting players like Colm Meaney and Viola Davis are nothing more than bit players and add nothing to the proceedings.
Director F.Gary Gray, who gave us "The Italian Job" remake, lacks imagination and "Law-Abiding Citizen" merely functions as an action flick with lots and lots of toys but no passion nor purpose.
Too lifeless to be "Death Wish" and too self-important to be "Saw," "Law-Abiding Citizen" ends up being the perfect action flick for low-maintenance audiences who neither need to think nor feel while watching their people and places blow up.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic