MOVIE REVIEW- Beyond revenge: <i>Law Abiding Citizen</i> a gory allegory
"Torture porn" isn't just for horror movies anymore. Law Abiding Citizen is a cross between Death Wish and The Silence of the Lambs. It's a story about guilt that will be a guilty pleasure for some. For others, it will be as painful as some of the almost Saw-like revenge scenarios being played out.
Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is a victim of the brutal home invasion that opens the movie. He's bound and stabbed and watches helplessly while two men rape his wife and kill her and their young daughter.
Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), a prosecutor with the Philadelphia district attorney's office, cuts a deal for Darby (Christian Stolte), the more vicious of the two criminals, to testify against Ames (Josh Stewart) in exchange for a lighter sentence. Darby spends three years in prison.
Ten years after the crime, Ames is finally executed, but someone tampers with the chemicals in his lethal injection to be sure he suffers. Evidence suggests Darby is guilty, but before the police can question him, he's kidnapped and agonizingly dismembered.
Clearly, our old pal Clyde is responsible, but even when he's arrested, he maintains the upper hand in negotiating with Nick for special treatment. When he kills his cellmate, he's put in solitary confinement. Even then, people connected with the light sentence Darby received keep dying. How Clyde accomplishes this isn't really explained, even when the script tosses out some simplistic explanations.
Law Abiding Citizen raises all sorts of issues and ambiguities but never goes deep enough to strain the brains of audience members who are just there for the bloodletting.
Clyde rates some sympathy at first for his suffering and loss and the fact that justice truly wasn't served in his case; but as he becomes more of a monster and his victims further removed from the cause of his grief, it will take a viewer as crazy as he is to justify his actions.
Butler, whose star status I find mystifying, approaches Clyde as if he were Mel Gibson playing Hannibal Lecter, with none of the subtlety Anthony Hopkins brought to the role.
Nick's hero status is compromised too. He's proud of his 96 percent conviction rate and makes deals, including the one with Darby, rather than roll the dice in court in hopes of a fair verdict. With cases lost every day on technicalities, his rationalization is somewhat justifiable, even if his motivation is self-serving. Foxx keeps it low-key, as if he's hoping not to be noticed.
You can see Law Abiding Citizen as an allegory for America's response to 9/11, with Clive, like Bush, arguably overreacting against the wrong targets. But director F. Gary Gray is more interested in "gory" than allegory. Kurt Wimmer‘s script could probably have resulted in a better movie in other hands.
Law Abiding Citizen is a collection of clichés and familiar elements, most of which have been better used elsewhere. It's preposterous, but manages at least one good surprise and a few moments of suspense.
The movie illustrates its hero's philosophy, that it's better to aim low and hit your mark than aim high and risk total failure.