Revenge thrillers usually aren’t unique but recently that’s changed with the amount of thrillers in this genre that deliver on the unexpected, or at least the entertaining, such as Taken and Edge of Darkness. Director F. Gary Gray’s Law Abiding Citizen is a film that attempts to take on the questions of morality and justice in the legal system by way of revenge, but completely goes off the rails with a ridiculous twist that ruins almost everything that’s come before.
Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is trying to survive after seeing his wife and daughter murdered during a home invasion. When hotshot assistant district attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) makes a deal with one of the killers, allowing him to go free after three years, Clyde feels the system has failed him and decides to seek his own brand of justice. On paper this movie should be fantastic, questioning what justice is and whether the legal system truly helps, etc. Shelton feels vengeance is the best way and the kills in this are fantastic, especially one involving answering a cell phone. For those concerned about the opening home invasion fear not it’s incredibly short and the rape scene depicted moves very quickly and subtly so that’s not a reason to avoid this film. Butler gives a more subdued performance and this is proof he’s more suitable to dramatic fare, the same can be said for Foxx. The problem with Law Abiding Citizen is that at the half hour mark, when he enacts revenge on the actual murderer, Shelton starts to pick off Rice’s team that actually consists of good hearted people, defeating the purpose of the whole movie. It’s easy to say Gray was trying to ask “At what point does justice turn to madness” but you lose all sympathy for Shelton when he crafts these horrific deaths to otherwise good people, including a woman! There’s also a highly contrived plot involving Shelton and Homeland Security and an accomplice that leaves you scratching your head. Had Gray attempted to make this a courtroom drama after Shelton offs the real killer, which is alluded to in a scene with Shelton making bail, he could have really made a statement. Instead the movie devolves into a convoluted mess with Shelton coming off more powerful than he starts.
The DVD has some unique features that give some different points of view on this movie. The most interesting of the material is the audio commentary with producers Lucas Foster and Alan Siegel. It is odd that director Gray didn’t do a commentary at all, and neither did the stars, but Foster and Siegel give a producer’s perspective on this, a POV that usually isn’t included. They discuss the story, the acting and the themes raised as well as the studios views on this movie. One can say it sounds a bit too corporate or sanitized but I thought it was a rather neglected area that got some focus. Other than that there’s a fifteen minute making-of feature entitled Law in Black and White - Behind the Scenes. It’s typical “How the movie was made” fluff but if you wanted some of the cast and crew talking a bit informally about the movie, here you go. The Justice of Law Abiding Citizen is a six minute feature exploring some of the themes I mentioned above and this irked me as there was so much potential to truly explore some of those themes and they were ignored. It’s also extremely short so it’s nothing too in-depth. The Verdict is merely a fan-made trailer and the original theatrical trailer is included.
Law Abiding Citizen is great if one sticks to the first hour at best, after that it becomes a bit too ridiculous. If you enjoy movies in this vein like Death Wish, you’ll love this. The DVD is pretty dry but the commentary is interesting.