Sunday, October 18, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

by Pa Rock
Citizen Film Critic

This afternoon I went to see the new action thriller, Law Abiding Citizen, the tale of a very smart man who is wronged by the system and goes on to wreak havoc on most of those who had a hand in the injustice. The man, once a loving father and husband, evolves into a raging psychopath - a character written to give a warm and fuzzy feeling to the vigilante in all of us!

Gerard Butler is an inventor and employee of some clandestine government agency who cleans up situations and causes people to go away. As the movie opens, he is felled in his home by a couple of homicidal thieves. He lays helpless on the floor as one of the two miscreants rapes his wife and then carries off his 10-year-old daughter. (The age of the child does prove to be important as the plot unfolds.)

Butler's wife and daughter are both killed, and the case goes to Jamie Foxx for prosecution. Foxx is an up-and-coming young lawyer in the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, and he is overly concerned with keeping his conviction rate high. Foxx bargains away the case so that he can get an easy conviction. The most evil of the two thieves rolls over on the other. The deal-maker is charged with third degree murder, a crime that will land him in prison for just a few years. The other is convicted of first degree murder, a crime for which he will be executed.

And then suddenly it is ten years later. The execution of the luckless thief takes place - with a surprising twist - and his evil partner is dispatched to hell with a slaughter scene right out of Dexter. It is quickly determined that Gerard Butler's character is the murderer. He is sent to prison and ultimately (after killing his cell mate) is thrown into solitary confinement in the prison's dank and eerie basement. From there he begins to take revenge on society by somehow continually exacting his bloody wrath on those associated with the trial ten years before - all of whom are located outside of the prison.

There is a nice parallel drawn between the lives of Butler and Foxx. When the original crime is committed, Foxx is a young attorney with a pregnant wife living in a house that has bedsheets for curtains. When the story heats up ten years later, Foxx is financially secure and living in a nice home with his beautiful wife and ten-year-old daughter, almost exactly the same life that Butler had been happily living ten years prior. Would Foxx use that significant parallel to come to terms with his lax prosecution of the murderous home invaders, would he show some empathy toward Butler, or would he push on as an able crusader for truth, justice and the American way?

Jamie Foxx is a treat whenever he is on the screen - in any film, but Gerard Butler owns this movie. Yes, he is a psychopath, but it's hard not to root for the guy who is laser-focused on fixing America's porous court system through rampant bloodshed. Alfred Hitchcock could not have created a villain with the complexity of the one portrayed by Butler. Violet Davis, a favorite of mine, musters enough grit to be a very credible mayor of Philadelphia. All of the actors are solidly in the debt of Kurt Wimmer for a standout screenplay.

Law Abiding Citizen is great escapist entertainment, and isn't that, after all, why we still go to the movies?

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