Law Abiding Citizen

Year: 2010
Production Co: Film Department
Director: F Gary Gray
Producer: Kurt Wimmer
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Regina Hall

You wouldn't think of this film as having an abrupt turn like From Dusk Till Dawn, but that's what I found myself feeling near the end. Suddenly, the guy I'd thought was the good guy was actually the bad guy who had to be stopped and vice versa.

Let me explain. Gerard Butler is a family man who loses his wife and daughter in a home invasion one night. Jamie Foxx is a slick assistant DA more interested in maintaining his conviction record than seeing justice served.

They meet because Nick (Foxx) has been assigned to prosecute the case, and he's let one of the scumbags who did it go on a plea bargain in order to get a sentence for the other. But seemingly simple-minded Clyde (Butler) can't see the problem. The two men killed his family, they should both pay.

When Nick tells him to forget it and get on with his life, Clyde had no intention of doing so. He ensures the first crime dies a horrible death on the lethal injection table after having the equipment tampered with, then captures the other and tortures him to death.

Clyde goes to jail willingly, and Nick takes his warnings that everyone who contributed to the injustice - from the judge on down - will die with a pinch of salt. That is until everyone involved starts dying around Nick, and all while Clyde sits in a cell or in solitary confinement. Clyde, it turns out, is an ex elite special forces agent (or something) and a master in the art of killing.

So during the whole film, I presumed I was supposed to be on Clyde's side, especially in a Hollywood system movie where mistrust of the pageantry of authority is held in such contempt and guys who take the law in to their own hands are the hero.

Suddenly, just before the climax, I realised Nick was going to be the hero and would have to do the race against time to stop Clyde exacting his terrible revenge. The film flipped allegiances without me even realising. If it had been the stated aim to present such murky morals it would have been a triumph. But it was a generic thriller with no such high ideals, and the final scenes made it clear I had it wrong - Clyde was decidedly the villain.

It was the first of many problems that make this a slick but unsatisfying action thriller. Another was Butler's American accent, which just made him sound uncomfortable at being there. Then there are the lesser and far more common stretches of credibility, such as a senior government legal officer running around to crime scenes and crawling through dark warehouses like an undercover cop. A good premise is hamstrung by the scripting and execution.

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