Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Law Abiding Citizen (2009) - Movie Review - 6/10

In Search Of A Hero

Gerard Butler (Dracula 2000, P.S. I Love You, 300) plays Clyde Shelton, whose wife and daughter are tragically raped and murdered. Public Prosecutor (Later District Attorney) Nick Rice, played by Jamie Fox (Ray, Collateral) makes a deal with the primary perpetrator, in order to get a death sentence on the lesser villain and maintain his conviction rate. Essentially Nick is a lawyer who cares little for justice, as long as he can play the system for his own benefit, convincing himself that he is making compromises for small yet certain victories over potentially big losses. Clyde returns ten years after the event, in order to wreak his vengeance on those he blames, as well as attempt to bring down the corrupt system that allowed his wife and daughter's rapist and murderer to go free after a short sentence.

Law Abiding Citizen has an intriguing premise, but in typical Hollywood style, lacks any conviction in its ideas and has to take the easy route. Initially we are made to feel great sympathy for Clyde, but his first acts of vengeance and justice are so over-blown, sadistic and awful that it screams out 'blatant plot device'. It is as though a great big sign is whacked in our faces, saying “You are not meant to sympathise with Clyde!”. He is going to be the movie's villain, and we are not permitted to have any cause for doubt. Lest we forget, in a later scene, there is even a clear manipulation of the audience with “pretty young woman who is now questioning her ethics, and obviously doesn't deserve to die”. Just to ensure that the miscellaneous cold-hearted lawyers are not faceless, and become sympathetic victims.

It may seem harsh on the surface to refer to the character of Nick Rice as caring nothing for justice, but as Clyde's character states at one point, he would have had respect for Nick and accepted the outcome, if he had fought to put the heinous villain away and failed, rather than settled for a pathetic sentence to ensure a conviction. The character is a selfish self-absorbed ladder-climber, who is willing to put a minor villain to death (Who merely stood by, though later regretted his actions) then make a deal and shake hands with a child rapist and murderer in order to ensure his 'victory'. Yet ultimately we are meant to empathise and support him, because he finds a loophole that enables his discovery of Clyde's methods of vengeance. The conclusion is played as though the mighty hero has finally defeated his nemesis. Instead we are left wishing neither had won.

In general it is a slick and well produced movie that keeps you gripped, but becomes ultimately frustrating, annoying, and disappointing. By the conclusion (which throws credibility and common sense out of the window), you don't actually care what happens to either lead, because there is almost no sympathy to be had for either. What little sympathy there might be, is for the man we are obviously supposed to consider the villain. At least he has suffered a tragedy that has driven him to commit such deeds, as opposed to the 'hero' who is essentially a man willing to let evil continue by inaction and self interest.

I wanted to see something with far more bite. Something with grey areas of morality that made us think and question, as well as being a comment on the terribly flawed legal system of not only America, but most countries that work in a similar way.

There are plenty of films that disappoint yet entertain reasonably. They leave you wishing they had been better, but you don't regret seeing them as a bit of fun to pass the time. Law Abiding Citizen is unfortunately one of those that keeps you interested most of the way, but ultimately makes you wish you had never wasted the time. Steer clear, and watch something like Liam Neeson's 'Taken' instead, if you wish to see a movie that is a considerably more interesting character study about revenge and how far someone is willing to go, in order to save or avenge those they love.

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