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Law Abiding Citizen a Cool Movie

Published October 16, 2009 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Images property of Overture Films
Law Abiding Citizen Poster Law Abiding Citizen

Law Abiding Citizen is not what you might expect. It’s not a gritty, morally ambiguous drama. This is brilliant exploitation with A-listers. It’s not an Oscar movie. It’s way cooler because it’s not looking for anyone’s approval.

Review: Law Abiding Citizen


Most of the cast seems to get it. They don’t ham it up but they relish the outrageousness of it. There may be one actor who thought it was a real drama, but I won’t pick on him. I can’t disguise an attack on the director, but he might have tried to have it both ways, but at least he delivered the outrageous fun.

It breaks the rules of genre, the rules of movies and the rules of society. Emotionally, we don’t need realism. We buy it if we feel it. Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler)’s kills are preposterous but they’re awesome. Flaws may be an actor’s dream, but all powerful, omniscient characters are cool. His plan is a real crowd pleaser.

The DVD mix-up with the little girl is awesome. Movies never traumatize kids, even movies where kids die. That’s justice though. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) wants to shelter his family from his shady lawyer deals, uh-uh. You get it sent right home to you.

Clyde’s vigilantism is elaborate enough to satisfy my revenge. I mean, I wish his family had been okay, but sh*t happens. At least Clyde really takes the power back. It’s not eye for an eye. It’s, “You’re going to suffer disproportionately but justifiably for your sins.” We can’t go down that road, but he can. We need to move on with our lives, plus we don’t have his money.

Clyde is totally the hero. There’s never a point where you support Nick’s self-righteous view of the legal system, or even the basic preservation of city employees. Even Nick’s innocent staff members are sniveling.



It’s only missing a scene where one of Rice’s mid-level assistants goes to the prison and begs Clyde for their life, because they don’t care about the deal one way or the other, they just want to live. See, I’m going with it. I’m thinking of more ways this scheme can play out.

You really won’t know what’s coming. The film is great at disarming you. This is a tried and true genre, the cat and mouse thriller. Perhaps they seated it in enough reality that sometimes you think you are just watching a legal drama. Then it reminds you, oh yeah, this is a gory revenge movie.

I like that the original killers exhibit simple badness. There’s no theorizing about what causes evil. It just exists, as it does.

There’s just one aspect of the movie that I think is smug Hollywood B.S. I don’t want to color your viewing experience, so we can talk about that particular scene later. But, if you think the whole premise, that a lawyer makes a deal purely to secure his conviction rate, is smug, there’s something even smugger. I mean, that could have been a juicy premise if it were sincere, but it’s so superficially for the lawyer’s own gain. But that’s not the part I had the problem with. That superficial smugness is perfect to make the killer a hero. There’s something else smug.

Oh, and they do intercut a lethal injection with a child’s cello recital. This must be the generation of filmmakers that hasn’t seen the baptism scene from The Godfather, or thinks they can do it better, because Defiance had a similar scene last year too.

If John Grisham wrote a Saw movie, it would be Law Abiding Citizen. It’s A Time to Saw. That’s a compliment. This is the best thriller of the year by far. It lives up to the cliché, “A fast paced, edge of your seat thrill ride.”

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Fred Topel
Sources: Images property of Overture Films
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