Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

Law Abiding Citizen is one of those films that uses our thirst for revenge-based entertainment against us. It sets up a Death Wish type scenario in which an everyman's family is killed, but his revenge goes well beyond what most people would consider reasonable. For instance he murders the guy who killed his family (reasonable) by subjecting him to hours of brutal torture (less reasonable) and then sends a DVD recording of it to a ten year old girl (unreasonable). He's also one of those smug, seemingly-omniscient villains who murders people according to a twisted moral philosophy using complicated death-traps, so Saw is definitely an influence, although he gets his hands dirty a lot more often than Jigsaw, the fuckin' pussy.

The movie begins with a home invasion where Clyde Shelton's (Gerard Butler) wife and daughter are killed by a couple of junkie assholes. On one hand they seem pretty organised because they are wearing plastic bags over their feet, but on the other hand one of the guys isn't too concerned about leaving a DNA deposit in his wife after he stabs her. The two men are caught and Assistant DA Nick Rice (Jaime Foxx) decides to make a deal for one to testify against the other rather than risk going to trial. One gets a death sentence, the other gets ten years for manslaughter, and the one who gets the reduced sentence is the one who did all the raping and stabbity-stab-stab. Clyde isn't happy about this, so he goes into hiding for several years and plans a complicated revenge scheme on the people he blames for the injustice.

He starts by replacing one of the three canisters of chemicals used for the killer's lethal injection, so that he suffers a more violent and painful death. Each canister injects about a liter of fluid in a few seconds, so they are luckily he didn't just straight up explode. He also kidnaps the other killer, with the help of some deadly neurotoxins and false moustaches, and subjects him to grisly torture (amputating his legs with a circular saw, cutting off his balls with a Stanley knife etc) and a slow, painful death. He also films it and sends the DVD to Foxx's ten year old daughter.

You see, Clyde doesn't just blame the murderers but the whole broken justice system, so he's got it in for all the lawyers, judges, legal assistants, guy-who-gets-the-coffee etc involved with the case. With the two killers out of the way, he puts into action his hugely elaborate scheme to bump them all off, which involves getting captured by the police so that he's got the perfect alibi. For some reason he decides to strip off so that when the SWAT guys bust in he's standing there butt-naked like a crazed serial killer. Maybe he was just trying to save them some time. No need to strip search me guys, it's all taken care of.

Once he's in jail he demands to see Foxx (their meetings take place in a cell that looks like a huge bird cage; they should have included a seed bell and a mirror to complete the illusion) and starts making crazy demands in exchange for the lives of the other people he's planning to kill. He manages to negotiate for a sweet mattress and a steak dinner. I thought he was going to use the bedsprings to pick a lock or something, but that's just a red herring. Instead he uses the t-bone from the steak to stab his cellmate to death. Should have given him a rib-eye I guess.

Meanwhile all the people involved in the case are getting murdered one by one. Foxx's former legal assistant gets blown up by a series of car-bombs (he blows up all the cars around her first, just to fuck with her I guess). Foxx's mentor gets murdered at a funeral using a bomb-disposal robot that has been ironically repurposed for bomb-deployment. My favourite was a surprise death involving a booby-trapped cell phone, which I've probably just spoiled for you, sorry. Foxx runs around trying to figure out how Clyde is killing all these people while he's sitting in solitary confinement.

There's also a part in the film where a mysterious CIA guy agent contacts them and reveals that Clyde worked for the military building deadly gadgets and planning assassination attempts. "This is a guy you don't want to fuck with" etc. I thought this was pretty amusing, because usually these kinds of films don't bother to explain why or how one guy could plan and carry out these insanely complicated schemes. Turns out it's this guy's day job. They also explain that he got super-rich from some successful patents, which is how he was able to buy up a bunch of abandoned warehouses to build all his death-traps and torture dungeons.

By law, all films involving a super-intelligent serial killer must conclude with a big twist, no matter how unbelievable or ill-concieved. Well, in this one it turns out that Clyde had dug a tunnel from one of his warehouses to his cell in solitary, which is how he was able to get around the city, so either he knew which cell he was assigned to ahead of time or he dug a shitload of tunnels. He doesn't think to include a Ferris-Bueller-style animated dummy in his cot, but luckily nobody bothers to check on him while he's dashing around the city. The grand finale of Clyde's scheme involves blowing up up the courthouse with a napalm bomb, so Foxx secretly plants in his cell so that Clyde sets it off with his mobile phone and Foxx can dramatically walk away from the explosion in slow motion (which from the looks of things demolished about half the prison).

I read some reviews that were really angry about this film, railing against Clyde's revenge scheme as if he was the hero. Maybe they were confused by the title, which I believe it is meant in an ironic fashion. Although it's pretty clear that Clyde is the villain, you definitely build up more sympathy for him than the erstwhile hero, whose upper-middle-class problems (will he or won't he attend his daughter's cello recital?!) seem pretty pathetic in comparison. Butler also seems to be having a lot more fun with his role than Foxx, whose Best Actor Oscar looks more and more like an embarrassing fluke of Halle Berry proportions.

This movie was written by Kurt Wimmer, so I presume he's been sentenced to write Saw knock-offs as punishment for Ultraviolet. I guess the justice system does work sometimes. It's directed by the anagram-loving F. Gary Gray, who did a bunch of hip-hop related stuff as well the Vin Diesel vehicle A Man Apart and the Volkswagon-relaunch vehicle The Italian Job. He does a pretty good job here, I guess. The pacing seems a bit weird and the twist is awkwardly revealed. It's dumb but it's an enjoyable kind of dumb. It's enjoyadumb.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found the movie law abiding citizen
and really like it. In all the reviews neveronce does any critic consider Jaime Foxx's statement we can't take or recant the decisions we make . The decisions we make now we live with. The only decisions we can make are those that effect life in positive way. I
think too many people and critics just didn't get it.