Movie Review – Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
by HELEN GEIB
Law Abiding Citizen is an elaborately plotted revenge fantasy starring Gerard Butler as a crime victim with a vendetta against the justice system that allowed his family’s killer to go free. Jamie Foxx plays the district attorney who bears main responsibility for the miscarriage of justice. F. Gary Gray directed and Kurt Wimmer is responsible for the script.
The set-up is as follows. A burglar who can only be charged with murder thanks to the felony-murder statute since he never even touched the victims receives the death penalty while the psychotic with a long criminal record who master-minded the home invasion, stabbed the husband with intent to kill, raped and murdered the wife, and murdered the couple’s young daughter is offered a plea bargain where he will serve only a few years in jail in exchange for testimony against his confederate who was practically a bystander to the crime by comparison despite the husband’s eyewitness identification of the killer, after which the DA who engineered this deal in a case that is a cause célèbre (for obvious reasons) not only does not face a firestorm of public and media criticism, but rather continues to prosper in his political-legal career.
Let’s get this out of the way and move on: This absurd set-up is only the beginning. The plot of Law Abiding Citizen is ludicrous. One ludicrous situation, plot “twist,” and “shocking revelation” follows another. Nothing that happens is logical, plausible, or grounded in realistic character psychology. The filmmakers’ tactic to keep the audience guessing is to continually do things that make no sense.
Foxx goes through the motions in a thankless role. Butler seems more engaged, but even his considerable charisma is crushed by the scripting. Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, and Bruce McGill each has a scene or two to make one wish they weren’t wasted in this movie. Really though, given the pervasive absurdity and perfunctory characterization it seems largely beside the point to even evaluate the acting.
Law Abiding Citizen is inept, but more than that it is confused. The film stumbles around in search of a purpose. Does it want to horrify? To shock? To thrill? To engage the audience’s emotions? It stumbles from one genre and storyline to another. It’s a sensationalistic expose of the criminal justice system, a horror film, an investigative thriller, a revenge drama, a cat-and-mouse and race against time thriller, a “why is daddy never home” domestic drama. What may have been intended as mind games with the audience come across as a product of the writer and director’s indecisiveness. Are we supposed to be moved by what happens to these two men? Is the ending meant to be cathartic? Ironic? Who knows. By the end of this mess of a film, who could possibly care whether either one of them lives or dies?