Ten years after a man’s wife and daughter are murdered, one of the murderers is finally about to be put to death. The death penalty is being put to use in this case, and now justice being served. However, what was supposed to be a painless death, turns into a horrific scene. The chemicals used to put the man to sleep have been switched. Who’s the prime suspect? The man who had his family murdered right in front of his own face.
There was another man who murdered this man’s wife and child, and because of a plea bargain taken ten years prior, he went to jail for a short time, and was released. This man is contacted, and is then kidnapped. The kidnapper is the same person who is the prime suspect in the death row murder. This man is Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler).
He’s got a motive, as the plea bargain wasn’t his idea. It was his lawyer’s, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx). He is still upset about the one man getting off scott-free, and has decided to do something about it. We see him do this, but when he is arrested, there is no evidence tying him to either crime. He tells them he’ll cut a deal with them: if they bring him a nice bed for his prison cell, he’ll confess to the crimes.
These games continue throughout the film, with different deals being cut for different crimes. Shelton seems to have people outside the prison, meaning he can continue to threaten the safety of the public, and governement officials, despite being held in prison. He’s a real threat, and he’s also the character that director F. Gary Gray wants us to sympathize with.
The film opens up with us witnessing the mudrder of Shelton’s immediate family. We are put into his corner right off the bat, and despite the fact that the majority of the film frames him as the bad guy — not Rice — we still want to root for him. This technique works well in giving us a different perspective from the clear-cut good and bad presented in many films.
Also different from many films is the gruesome portrayal of violence. Apart from one scene that gets cut away from right before anything happens — and later gets described in great detail anyway — the film shows its murder scenes in unflinching glory. They are difficult to watch, and each one is felt by the audience.
Not in this film’s favor is how implausible the entire plot is. While I can’t give away why it is implausible, for fear of spoiling some of the odd things that occur later on in the film, I’ll say that a great deal of suspending your belief has to occur in order for you to get full enjoyment out of Law Abiding Citizen.
Thankfully, not paying close enough attention to the various plot holes is easy enough to do. The film is enjoyable, with enough edge-of-your-seat action to keep you from thinking too hard about the plot. At its very core, it is quite an entertaining film, one that will keep you fixated on it, regardless of whether or not it makes complete sense.
If it does have a major problem, it’s the fact that it loses severe steam towards its finale. Law Abiding Citizen starts off strong, really strong in fact. The first 40 or so minutes were fabulous. Where the plot was going to take us was a mystery. Then things started slowing down, and the next hour was spent trying to figure out a way to kill the film.
And “kill it” is something that the filmmakers do. The final scenes of the film make it really apparent that they couldn’t figure out a proper way to conclude. The ending feels like a cop-out, one that really disappointed me. It worked in only one way: to let the last bit of air out of the slowly leaking balloon.
Performance-wise, there is good and bad. The good comes from the supporting cast, but this is sadly overshadowed by the bad. Butler (whom I’m convinced cannot do an American accent), doesn’t show the kind of emotion one would expect by a man who had such a terrible thing happen to him. Foxx isn’t much better, also showing little emotion, despite having many of his collegues murdered right in front of him. He doesn’t seem mad, upset or frustrated, and is only focused on doing his job.
Law Abiding Citizen is a film that has fun with what it does. Its plot is not all that plausible, having a few plot holes that are quite noticeable. Despite this, its a film that wants you to enjoy yourself while watching it. The acting isn’t great, but it doesn’t really need to be. The film will keep you on the edge of your seat, with the film staying interesting throughout. Not having clear-cut good and bad characters works well, and if the ending hadn’t felt like such a cop-out, it would be a film recommended without thought. As it is, Law Abiding Citizen is a fun film that will keep you engaged, and that’s about all you can ask of it.