Law Abiding Citizen Reviews
Nonetheless, this movie suffers a messy and uneven script.
Though Law Abiding Citizen has a screenplay with the potential to be something truly clever and a style of dialogue which conveys an interesting examination of the justice system, it is too challenging to get past the unbelievable narrative that the film is built on. The story in Law Abiding Citizen wants to challenge the morals of viewers, causing them to question where the line for the "eye for an eye" moral truly is. Unfortunately, it only makes an excessively brief attempt at doing this and eventually settles for a narrative which is far from believable instead. The story goes from one with potential into a conventional game of cat and mouse with killer and then into a simple manhunt. It's nowhere near as challenging as it wants to be or seems to think that it is because it is clear the viewer is supposed to be conflicted onprecisely how much sympathy they can maintain for the antagonist. Yet with a script that relies on paper thin characterizations which already play second fiddle to the style-over-substance approach of the film, there is little innovation on offer.
F. Gary Gray's directorial work is predictably an asset to Law Abiding Citizen because he is able to build atmosphere and style off the production values of the film, effectively giving it some sense of credibility. Yet even he cannot salvage the story. Because he cannot, he simply attempts to make due by filling the movie with powerfully captured imagery that uses a lot of close up cinematography and effective slow motion to build a sense of drama. The musical score also manages to match the pace of the narrative, allowing things to build tension at the appropriate times. It is clear that the man's stylish edge is able to convert the film into being a spectacle of sorts, even if it is rather overblown for a feature with a limited collection of characters and settings. The film is very much just a stylish star vehicle, though it does have styles and stars that work to its credibility.
What the experience all boils down to is the manner in which Law Abiding Citizen treats its supposedly most interesting character, Clyde Shelton. The film's characterization of Clyde Shelton ends up being a little too farfetched. For all the murders depicted in the film to acually occur, the events would have to line up with tenacious precision in timing and many other things. The script decides to write this off by saying his is some sort of technological assassin, but that is too far beyond belief for the film to maintain the credibility of a legitimate crime thriller. From that point on, it essentially becomes as ludicrous as a piece of science fiction. And considering the fact that Clyde Shelton kills his foes with exploding phones and guns that release venomous neurotexin into the hands of the holder, there is a sense that the film gets a little too 007 for its own good. But on top of that, the way that Clyde Shelton tortures his first hands-on victim seems very much derivative of the approach that serial killer Dexter Morgan takes to his victims in the television series Dexter (2006-2013). Essentially, Clyde Shelton is a combination of Dexter Morgan and James Bond without a sensible level of sadism for him to find an appropriate line between criminal mastermind and a bereaving widow. Ultimately, Clyde Shelton only gets sensible treatment from the actor in the role, Gerard Butler.
Though Gerard Butler is an actor very much memorable for portraying the remorseless Leonidas in 300 (2006), Law Abiding Citizen throws him straight into the other end of acting. Within a very brief amount of time on screen, Gerard Butler delivers a performance so far from Leonidas that the humanity is very powerful. He instantly projects a sense of internal pain within the character, a feeling of vulnerability that comes to him so naturally that it feels far from acted. And in the blink of an eye, he changes. Gerard Butler is stuck with thin characterization and a very odd role, but he is able to easily embrace the insanity of the character and convey a believable sense of cruel sadism in the part. Gerard Butler is stuck with a meandering role in Law Abiding Citizen, but his performance is really one of the finest things that the film has to offer. It is certainly far from effective enough to be anywhere on par with Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter which it seems to mimic in one particular scene, but the way that Gerard Butler delivers his lines with a tenacious confidence in understanding everything that he has to say helps to encourage a sense of beliavabilty in a narrative which is really beyond rational thought.
Jamie Foxx is also a nice touch. The man is an accomplished actor who hardly gets challenged in his role and instead has to essentially resort to playing an archetype, but the naturally sophisticated charm of the actor ensures that he is able to effectively come off as human to the audience and yet still remain intensively convincing. Jamie Foxx manages to build on Gerard Butler's performance by capitalizing on some really intense moments of interaction, effectively working a routine effort into capturing the interest of viewers. Jamie Foxx's instinctive understanding of all the legal concepts in the script boosts the credibility of the character and of him in the process.
So Law Abiding Citizen benefits from F. Gary Gray's keen eye for strong imagery and atmosphere as well as a duo of decent performances from Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx, but it is ultimately overdone by a narrative which is too far beyond belief and constructed out of multiple generic crime thriller plot devices and a collection of murder scenes which all feel derivative of the wrong material.