Law Abiding Citizen
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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When a film opens with a mother and daughter being raped and murdered, as Law Abiding Citizen does, the filmmakers had better have a point to make. Unfortunately, these filmmakers do not. Law Abiding Citizen is not exactly a terrible film or really as offensive as my previous statement might indicate. It’s simply sub-par and confused, and fails to live up to all expectations it sets for itself.
The plot opens on Clyde Shelton’s (Gerard Butler) family home, where a couple burglars break in and one of them rapes and murders his family. During the trial, Clyde’s attorney, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), makes a plea bargain with the burglar who perpetrated the murders and the man walks free, leaving Nick looking like a villain and Clyde in desperate need of vengeance. Needlessly skip ahead ten years and Clyde begins illogically murdering everyone who had been involved in the trial, and in some really unclever ways at that. Nick ends up being the good guy and it turns out that he is the only one who can defeat the nefarious Clyde, who… Argh. You see the problem, right? How does Clyde end up being the villain?
Clyde’s turnaround occurs so suddenly as a result of the skipping ahead ten years that his vilification makes no sense. The writers try desperately to compensate by feeding us this line of espionage crap, claiming that he created amazing weapons for the CIA or something, but we don’t believe that either since none of his methods of killing are nearly as creative as the one that he supposedly created for the CIA (or whoever). He buries someone alive and uses guns, car bombs, knives and napalm. Not very creative. Clyde being the villain is the crux of the plot, and it just doesn’t work.
When you’re watching the movie, Clyde is obviously the protagonist in the opening. By the end, it’s Nick. How did that happen? I realized later that the filmmakers expect us to switch allegiance from Clyde to Nick after the trial when Nick’s daughter is born. It’s a pretty grim view of audiences when writers think that we’ll side with whoever is left with a family when the bullets stop flying. “Never mind what happened to the other guy’s wife and kid, folks. He doesn’t have them anymore. So he must be the bad guy.?” Don’t you find that the tiniest bit insulting and/or insensitive?
And one final point: Law Abiding Citizen is another film to fall in line with an overwhelming recent trend in Hollywood of misusing cliche plot devices. Legion, for instance, is nothing but misused cliches from one end to the other, but here there is only one and it is a glaring misuse. The cliche in question is that of the father who is so absorbed in his work that he never makes it to his child’s music recitals. Normally, the father works in a field that does little or nothing of real benefit for society, and is only concerned with the further appropriation of wealth; and we, the audience, know that if he does not leave the office, he will lose the only real purpose he has in life, in the form of his wife and daughter. In Law Abiding Citizen, however, this plot device is used with Nick, a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office. This does not apply, as his work is actually of vital importance to the welfare of the city. Ultimately, the application of this implies that those who uphold the law need to relax, whereas the rest of the movie (wherein the relaxed law allowed for Clyde to cause the deaths of dozens) would have you believe the complete opposite.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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