Law Abiding Citizen

(2009) * 1/2 R
122 min. Overture Films. Director: F Gary Gray. Cast: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill, Leslie Bibb.

/content/films/3604/1.jpg“It’s going to get Biblical!” So promises the psychotic prime mover of the new thriller Law Abiding Citizen. Now there’s a lot of crazy stuff in the Bible, which would no doubt get an “R” from the MPAA for much the same reasons Law Abiding Citizen did. But this movie sets new standards of lunatic plotting as it goes about its smiting.

Gerard Butler plays Clyde Shelton, a seemingly everyday engineer who—in the film’s first scene—must watch helplessly as his wife and daughter are slaughtered by two random, home-invading sickos. When the case reaches the Philadelphia courts, it lands with hotshot prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), who touts his 96% conviction rate. In part because he’s unwilling to risk his record, Rice insists on cutting a deal with one perp in order to ensure conviction for the other. “This is just how the justice system works,” Nick explains, but Clyde is having none of it.

Ten years later, Nick is still upwardly mobile, missing his daughter’s violin recital (yet again) to attend an execution. The man strapped to the table is one of Clyde’s tormenters, and when the execution goes horribly wrong, it’s not long before the authorities realize that Clyde has begun his own search for vigilante justice. But he’s not content with getting back at the two killers; now he’s at “war” with “this broken thing” called the justice system. (The crisis reaches all the way up to the character simply called “Mayor,” played—unfortunately for her—by recent Oscar nominee Viola Davis.)

The return of director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, The Negotiator) is a brain-dead revenger’s drama casting Clyde as a sort of Special Forces version of Hannibal Lecter; the government-contracted engineer turns out to be “a born tactician” capable of anything. Early on, Clyde is tossed into maximum security prison, but he still manages to go on a rampage that holds the entire city hostage. How? That would be telling, but believe me, you don’t want to know. The big reveal about how Clyde is serial killing from his cell wins, hands down, Most Ludicrous Plot Device of 2009.

Nothing much makes sense in Law Abiding Citizen, though: not the fact that Clyde tolerates Nick, who should be an equal object of Clyde’s anger; not Clyde’s labyrinthine stratagems; and not the film’s implicit sympathy with Clyde as he sticks it to the man. On a primal—and most certainly base level —Law Abiding Citizen is something of a crowd pleaser, and only because it is so ludicrous. Since the story is impossible to mistake for reality, the audience gets license to enjoy seeing murderers and fatcats pay for their transgressions. But the tragedy isn’t what happens in the movie; it’s what happens in the movie theater.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 2/16/2010

Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Law Abiding Citizen gets an exemplary A/V transfer in a two-disc Blu-ray set from Anchor Bay. The picture earns high marks all around: accurate color and contrast, fine texture and detail, and deep blacks with no digital artifacts to be found. The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix handily gets the job done, with solid immersion, clear dialogue reproduction, full-bodied music cues and some punchy sound effects mixing when the action sets off. This set offers the Unrated Director's Cut (approx. 118 minutes) on Disc One and the Theatrical Cut (approx. 109 minutes) on Disc Two.

The lion's share of the bonus features reside on Disc One. In "The Justice of Law Abiding Citizen" (6:15, HD) producer Lucas Foster, director F. Gary Gray, former L.A. city prosecutor Katie Buckland, and former Philadelphia assistant district attorney Steve Hyman give their perspectives on legal issues touched on by the film.

"Law in Black and White - Behind the Scenes" (15:06, HD) mostly features inexplicably black-and-white B-roll from the set, but also includes some interview comments from Gray, Foster, producer Alan Siegel, Jamie Foxx, and Gerard Butler.

"Preliminary Arguments - Visual Effects Progressions" (6:46, HD) takes a look at six scenes through various stages of development, with technical commentary.

Last up are the amateur trailer "The Verdict - Winning Trailer Mash-Up" (1:04, HD) and the official "Theatrical Trailer" (2:26, HD).

Disc Two presents the Theatrical Cut with optional audio commentary featuring Foster and Siegel. Though it's hard to believe there's going to be much interest in hearing from the producers of Law Abiding Citizen, those who love the film can get the behind-the-scenes skinny here as the men in question discuss how the project and cast came together, and how the script struggled to do the same.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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