I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Law Abiding Citizen

tn_lawabidingcitizen’90s studio action thriller – I’d like you to meet my friend SAW.

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is the story of a guy named Clyde (Gerard Butler, 300) whose family is killed in a home invasion in the opening scene. To add insult to injury his attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx, STEALTH) makes a deal for one killer to testify against the other and just get one of them executed rather than risk going to trial just based on Clyde’s eye witness testimony. At the time of the attack Clyde was working on a circuit board, so we know he’s some kind of technological wizard or sorcerer, which explains why ten years later he can exact an ingenious master plan of super revenge with strong overtones of cultural critique. You see, he doesn’t just blame the killers, he blames Rice for putting his conviction rate above actual justice, and the judges for whatever they did, this whole system is out of order, you can’t handle the truth, etc.

mp_lawabidingcitizenBut it’s not a revenge movie. The avenger is the villain. The hero is the attorney, who must stop murders in the face of this bitter madman/biting satirist trying to make a point about “this whole broken system.” He uses bombs and armed drones and shit to attack Justice Department lawyers. You should realize you’re not supposed to be rooting for Clyde about half an hour in when he’s cutting a guy’s dick off with a box cutter. Failing that, you should figure it out when he gives a DVD of the dick-cutting to Rice’s young daughter. Sure, you enjoy torture and mutilation, but what about the children?

(I do remember reading, though, that Butler was shocked to witness audiences cheering for his character. So maybe it’s too subtle.)

It’s got this horrendous torture, done by a mastermind who’s always fifty six steps ahead of everyone else, able to set traps even while locked up, and who’s self righteously trying to make a statement and teach people a lesson. SEVEN begat SAW begat this. I couldn’t help but start wondering why this type of villain is so common now. I just watched one called THE COLLECTOR where the guy built fanciful traps that seemed to anticipate any possible outcome, and there was that Renny Harlin movie 12 ROUNDS where a criminal whose girlfriend got run over enacts an elaborate revenge on the cop he unfairly blames for it. Both that one and this one have a dangerous murderer who the authorities all refer to just by first name.  In fact, LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is like the prestige version of 12 ROUNDS. Instead of a former WWE Heavyweight Champion they have a previous best actor Oscar winner, instead of fun action sequences they have aspirations of making a grand statement about justice. It still comes off lowbrow, even kind of sleazy, but it seems like it thinks it’s kind of profound. Makes sense that it’s written by Kurt EQUILIBRIUM Wimmer. (I still like his Brian Bosworth movie, though.)

Why all these preachy meticulous-preparation bad guys? How long before we have a horror thriller called THE SCOUT where the villain just plans ahead real good because of what he learned camping as a kid? Does this mean we as a society fear the intelligent? Or just that SAW was popular so a bunch of people wrote scripts like that? These questions were really distracting me, but luckily the movie drew me back in using a classic action movie move: it couched Clyde’s Jigsaw-style plan in the language of the DIE HARD ripoff. It’s the old “this guy’s from the Department of Defense, their top guy, you don’t want to piss him off, etc.” The William Stranix or Travis Dane approach.

There are some good parts. There’s at least one death that genuinely took me off guard. And I like that some of the master strokes aren’t just violence. For example he successfully talks a judge into releasing him on bail only so he can yell at her that she was gonna let a murderer out on the streets just for doing some fancy legal maneuvers, and that’s what started this whole conflict in the first place. And when you find out the trick of how he’s doing what he’s doing it’s an enjoyably ludicrous explanation.

Butler is pretty good (I like to imagine that his shifting accent is due to time spent working overseas). To be honest though, Foxx isn’t that good, he kind of goes through the motions and doesn’t really find a way to make his character very relatable. He’s usually better than this.

It might work better if Clyde was more seductive – like if he starts out getting an audience-pleasing revenge but goes further and further over the line. But then I guess it would be closer to DEATH SENTENCE (a much better post-SAW revenge movie in my opinion – and on further viewing a better movie than I realized when I wrote my review). I do appreciate that he’s not a 100% evil villain. He leans slightly toward anti-hero. At the end, when he’s lost (SPOILER), but one of his points seems to have finally gotten through to Rice, he seems genuinely comforted by that.

I can’t really get excited about this one, I’d rather see a real good movie or a much worse one. But it’s okay – not as dumb as you might expect, but not as smart is it probly thinks it is. If it can think. But I don’t know if it can, because it’s not all that smart.

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DEPARTMENT OF DID I MISS SOMETHING? Maybe my mind drifted or something, but there was a bit I didn’t understand, so maybe somebody who’s seen it can plug in a few holes for me. Jamie Foxx’s assistant, the blond lady, was getting information from a secret source. She called the source “Chester,” but wouldn’t tell who it was. Foxx’s character brings it up more than once – “Chester – he’s your boyfriend, right?”, reminding the audience that there’s a mystery afoot. She tells him it’s not time for him to know yet. It seems like this is setting you up either for a surprise twist or a “surprise” twist where she’s been working with Clyde all along.

But did they ever reveal who Chester was? I didn’t catch it if they did.

A smaller matter is Clyde’s accomplice. They keep saying they suspect he has an accomplice on the outside. Then, during the climactic confrontation, Clyde asks “Did you catch my accomplice?” and Rice says, “Yeah.” Was this just awkwardly delivered sarcasm, because now he knows there wasn’t an accomplice, or did I miss the reveal of an accomplice? (And Chester?)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 at 2:38 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

37 Responses to “Law Abiding Citizen”

  1. I don’t think they did reveal who Chester was. He remained totally off-screen and was basically a plot convenience to get Rice the financial information needed so that he could comb through them to find what properties Clyde had.

    And I am totally not surprised that people identified with Clyde. Jamie Fox’s performance left a lot to be desired and Butler delivered his justification and the pain his character felt much more convincingly, even though his grand symphony of a revenge was a little all-encompassing.

  2. Well, i actually liked that one.

    About that Chester Guy. *SPOILER* If i remember correctly Foxx gets an email from him after she is dead regarding the land he has bought over some goverment deal or something like that. It makes them find the Garage.

  3. I thought the same thing about Foxx’s assistant while watching this, I assume it was just a red herring

  4. I actually work for justice department and my best friend is a cop and we were both rooting for gerard to win, especially his final plan – hoping against hope. It was such a disappointing reality check when we realised he obviously couldn’t because it’s just a (stupid) movie.

    While watching I assumed without thinkin that Chester was the accomplice. At the end the exposition part just struck me as removed to shave time, like the main character scenes from Kingdom of Heaven or the entire setup from Dune.

    Death Sentence, Equilibrium, One Tough Bastard and 12 Rounds are all really good but not great movies too – they all rank EXACTLY equally with Law Abiding Citizen – though to be fair One Tough Bastard is the only one I watched more than once (6 times to be exact) so give it half a notch more for style. To be honest though, this review and all this talk of Bosworth has given me an immediate need to watch Stone Cold again so that’s what Ima gonna do.

  5. *Stealth was not really good though – just to note that Jamie Foxx is not the x-factor here.

  6. UGH, Kurt Wimmer is so terrible. He’s like a really lame guy who think he’s hip and smart.

    Death Sentence was a surprisingly good movie.

  7. Jamie Foxx has got a few more Hollywood pictures left before he’s back on television or relegated to the DTV market. His movies just do not perform.

  8. True, but did you see that video he did with a bunch of celebrities and some dude in a bear suit? Fucking hilarious. The best part is when all these slick dudes like Forest Whitaker and Jake Gylenhaal get out of a limo in slow-mo all Hype Williams-like, and then Ron Howard gets out with his thousand-yard stare on. Nobody has ever looked more out of place in the history of ever. I give Jamie Foxx respect for making that happen.

  9. I love how the photo from the movie that Vern used is basically a re-creation of a scene from “Seven,” even down to the racial makeup of the cops / authority figures – two guys over a jumpsuited prisoner on his knees in what appears to be some sort of wasteland.

    Kind of makes the whole thing seem to come full circle.

  10. SPOILER- Vern when they talked about his accomplice, were they referring to the tunnels he was using? Instead of having a partner, he was using tunnels to do it himself.

  11. So he had the same accomplice as the new Jason?

  12. I enjoyed LAW ABIDING CITIZEN. Is it ridiculous and silly? Why yes, but I liked it and Gerald Butler obviously was having fun playing a sympathetic villain, but a fucking villain none the less.

    Besides who didn’t dig that scene when Butler sends that torture tape to Foxx’s kid? Man that was creatively fucked up.

  13. Vern, the reason the Collector seems influenced by Saw is because it was written by the guy who wrote Saw 4 through 7, and was originally intended to be a Saw prequel.

    I saw Law Abiding Citizen at a preview screening, followed by a Q and A with F. Gary Gray, who is awesome. He talked about secret directing tricks (my favorite being, he records the script into audio form and listens to it constantly while on set, so that he knows it better than anybody), and how LAC was the best of a pile of bad scripts. He told a great story about the action sequence in the graveyard, how it needed punching up, so he goes, “Why don’t we get a robot?” They end up getting one of the two bomb-squad robots in Philadelphia (when the cops objected: “Come on, what are the odds of two bomb threats at the same time?”) and outfitting it with a bunch of weaponry. When he first asked for it, his team said it couldn’t be done, and his response was, “You have to move this mountain for me. You have to get me this robot.” And they did. In conclusion F. Gary Gray is awesome.

    IMO Gray actually directed the movie so deadpan that it turns around into a hilarious parody of these kinds of movies, each moment more absurd than the last. My friends and I laughed all the way through it. The only real flaw is that the ending seemed like it didn’t go far enough. And (SPOILER) the last scene should not have been Jamie Foxx learning he needs to be with his kids, it needed to be him missing his kid’s recital to go put crooks in prison, because the lesson he learned was to do his goddamn job.

  14. SPOILER

    Brendan – I think that is what it’s supposed to mean, but the fact that Jamie Foxx is standing there in Butler’s cell when he comes up through the tunnel establishes for both characters that yes, there is a tunnel, and we both know about it. So then when he asks him if he knows about it I got confused.

  15. Yup, it was sarcasm when he asked if he’d caught his accomplice yet.

    I dunno, I liked this one. The twist with the tunnel into the prison was stretching credibility pretty damn thin though(so did he tunnel to every single cell or just have a vision of the future that told him exactly which solitary cell he’d be put in if he shanked his cell mate?). I was rooting for Clyde I think because even though he ends up being the “crazy villain” Jaimie Foxx’s character is sort of a dick for most of the movie so I wanted him to get his just desserts for letting the murderer off at the beginning of the movie.

    What I was wondering about the movie though was what was the reason the two guys showed up at Clyde’s house in the first place. I don’t think it was ever explained as anything more than a random home invasion in the movie (correct me if I’m wrong here) but it seemed like they were hired killers (usually random home invaders don’t take the time to put plastic bags on their shoes to hide their foot prints) sent to execute Clyde and his family. Maybe that got left on the cutting room floor.

  16. The whole SEVEN begetting SAW begetting this is fascinating to me because it seems like SAW should be inspiring lower budgeted ripoffs, not movies with A-list casts and crews.

    It was the same thing with UNTRACEABLE, a movie that clearly mimicked SAW’s polished, artificially grimy look and elaborate torture-device gimmicks, yet starred Diane Lane of all people. UNTRACEABLE seems to think its larger budget and more respectable cast/crew lends it some air of class, but its just as crass and stupid as a SAW movie without being nearly as fun.

    Also, THE COLLECTOR is not a very good movie, but should be given some props for the scene where the girl falls into a room full of bear traps. It’s sort of like a ridiculous, EXTREME updating of the barbed-wire scene in SUSPIRIA.

  17. I was just wondering where the hell he got all those bear traps. I don’t even know where I would go to get one, let alone dozens. Are those things even legal anymore? Doesn’t buying them in bulk get you put on some kind of list?

  18. He probably got them from the same serial killer department store where Jigsaw gets his factory equipment and Keanu Reeves bought those hundreds and hundreds of candles from in THE WATCHER

  19. It’s not surprising people end up rooting for the villain when his story is so much more fleshed out and interesting. It’s the same with the SAW series, and most long-running horror franchises really.

  20. Untraceable – man, was that bad. Just dirty and mean and ugly and pockmarked with tons of logical leaps that only forwarded its mean-spirited agenda. I think Gregory Hoblit has actually made a few pretty decent movies, like Primal Fear and Fracture, but this one should’ve been called Irredemable.

  21. Dan — maybe there’s some kind of bulk discount that frequent buyers get. It’s like, ‘hell, if I can get 100 bear traps for the price of five, why not fill a room with ’em?’ I bet they have a trade magazine and everything. You can just imagine the conversations with the sales clerk.

    “Hi, I’d like to purchase 50,000 feet of razor wire, please.”

    “Oh, wonderful. What line of work are you in?”

    “I run a ballet academy.”

    “Very good. For our larger clients, we like to cultivate a personal relationship with the owner. Do you have a number I can reach the her?”

    “Oh, there’s no need for that. She’s Invisible.”

    “I see.”

  22. “would you like our custom installation package?”

    “Nah, I’m just going to wad it up and throw it on the floor of some room.”

  23. The three mothers are probably notorious within the murder equipment and evil lair architecture and furnishing business communities. I still can’t figure out why mother Tenebrarum would need an underwater basement.

  24. Notorious for their weird requests, I should have specified.

  25. Another great review – will you review The Collector? I really dug that film and it didn’t get much attention at all when it was released. Good or bad, I’d love to read your opinion.

  26. Dan Prestwich: I don’t know how valid this point is, but I’ve heard people argue that SEVEN isn’t the starting point for this more sombre, clever/charismatic strain of serial killer film, but that the praise/blame should go to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

    As far as begetting goes, I think that tv show MILLENNIUM was a way more fruitful offspring from SEVEN than the SAW movies, though obviously SAW surprised everyone with its longevity.

    Mr. Subtlety: Haven’t you seen those late night commercials for Bob’s House of Discount Bear Traps out on Route 44, south of the Contestoga? They also go lawn gnomes and fake wishing wells. Tell ’em Bob MacEllroy set you.

  27. Jareth: I heart Millennium. Lance Henriksen in a slightly fictionalized version of the life of Pixies singer Frank Black, plus zombies? Yes, please. As a bonus, it has an X-files crossover, and you guys know how I love my X-files.

    I told them Bob MacEllroy sent me, but they still told me there was a background check for the gnomes. Lousy liberals.

  28. In fairness, Mr. S., those gnomes are carrying some pretty big guns.

    http://i220.photobucket.com/albums/dd295/runewarrior1/gnome-2.jpg

  29. I think the reason Jamie Foxx’s performance was lacking — compared to his other work — might be because originally he was supposed to play the Clyde role and Gerard Butler was going to play Rice. Pretty late in the game, Butler (LAC came from his production company) got a sudden change-of-heart and asked Foxx if he was cool with switching parts. I don’t know, maybe Foxx didn’t have enough time to do his homework and because of that he wasn’t as good as he could’ve been.

  30. Spoiler….what would have made this truly awesome and fantastic would have been rice’s girl’s cello blowing up at the end, now that’s masterpiece material

  31. I just rented this, and holy fuck.

    The trailer they put right before this was for Michael Moore’s latest film: Capitalism: A Love Story. The trailer is just non-stop shots of Michael Moore taking justice into his own hands and claiming that he has the right to judge everybody and take down the big evil broken corrupt system and then it immediately transitions to Law Abiding Citizen in which Gerry Butler plays Moore taking the next step.

    We’re in fucking Charlie Kaufman territory with this one here.

    Whoever chose that trailer to go with this movie for this DVD, please let me know who you are. I’ve got a bottle of champagne I’d like to send you.

  32. Before Lecter, there was Phibes. But I give Fritz Lang and Dr. Mabuse credit (or blame, if you prefer) for getting that particular ball rolling. Mabuse even influenced people from his cell, Lecter-style — and he was catatonic! That beats Jigsaw lying in fake blood on a bathroom floor for an entire movie, just so he could eavesdrop on two idiots. (It’s a shame nobody ever told the poor bastard about cameras and microphones. Could have saved him a visit to the chiropractor.)

  33. Yes but Mabuse had mind powers and a vast criminal organization. Phibes and Jigsaw at least had to put a little elbow grease into their work.

  34. We are the manufacturer of the robot used in the film. We loved the way it was used, because it is the first time I’ve seen an EOD robot used deviously in a movie instead the same-ole picking something up and dropping it. It is too bad WM Robots didn’t get a call to help as our factory is an hour away from the filming location, and we had two additional robots ready to go, plus we have a full machine shop to make just about anything.

    The Philly Bomb Squad technicians were really proud to be a part of this movie. They even went on to talk show to promote the movie. Please don’t put the objections on the guys – especially since we could have stepped in anytime and let the production crew borrow one of ours for several weeks.

    Anyway – I loved the movie, especially the cemetery scene, even if I’m a little biased. F Gary Gray can borrow a robot anytime!

  35. Just saw Foxx’s new action thriller SLEEPLESS. It’s the most audacious, no-messin-around, straight up enjoyable 90 minutes of action and stupidity I’ve seen recently. A bit of a cross between SNAKE EYES and TAKEN. I think some of you guys will get a kick out of it.

  36. I also liked SLEEPLESS. It was like a Liam Neeson movie with a DIE HARD ripoff embedded in the middle.

  37. I’ve been meaning to see that. Although I never reviewed it, the original French movie SLEEPLESS NIGHT is pretty good.

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