Law Abiding Citizen
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Bad revenge thrillers are a dime a dozen, and in today's recession, where we need to string up white-collar monsters like Bernie Mahdoff in effigy, these films will do. Just replace embezzlement and tax evasion with murder and coercion and bingo, you've got a way to tap into the hearts of scads of angry people looking to get a rise from a vigilante who punishes anyone that games "the system." F. Gary Gray's Law Abiding Citizen fits that tall order with a less grisly version of Saw, now starring such scruple-free stars as Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler. Public, consider yourselves served.
In the loaded scenario that screenwriter Kurt (Equilibrium) Wimmer concocted for Law Abiding Citizen, Clyde Shelton (Butler) sees the killer of his wife and children sentenced to a scant three years because Nick Rice (Foxx), a selfish prosecutor with a 96% conviction rate, wants to use the killer to put away a bigger thug instead. Now over the edge, Clyde waits ten years to get ready to torture Nick, a so-called defender of the law, because he didn't do everything he could to help the little guy in his time of need, pally.
Armed with a lot of explosive toys, Clyde promises his revenge is "gonna be biblical." He's got a higher code of ethics than any of Nick's stoopid laws. Mr. Big Shot Lawyer with his fancy-pants "civil rights" only gets right with that kind of Justice after he swears on said Christian tome to become the next District Attorney (you can't miss the scene, probably because Gray lingers on the book in question in close-up for what feels like an eternity). After all, the Bible's rules have no loopholes, making all of Clyde's puffer fish poisonings, box cutter castrations, car bombs and rocket-launching robots the work of a new pulp saint.
Two things separate Law Abiding Citizen from Saw, its grottier "torture porn" cousin. First, a minor difference in the goals of their respective moralizing anti-hero/villains: while Saw's villain sets out to teach people to appreciate life by torturing them, Clyde tries to make Nick respect the Law by breaking it, and the kind that lesser judicial system enforces, too. Second, Law Abiding Citizen features actors that require paychecks not written on toilet tissue—though neither of its headliners earns them. Butler's performance is especially dismal, a smirking Joe Six-Pack impersonation that gives him the disingenuous faux-gravitas of a porn star playing a plumber in his latest hardcore production.
Which is funny because, in light of that first minor difference, Gray and Wimmer seem to think they're making a smarter, classier mousetrap. There's certainly less bloodshed here than in Saw, and a much bigger budget, but not much else has changed. Gray even tries to make his film look as dingy as Saw by using grainy DV cameras, natural lighting and every filter David Fincher ever rejected. Maybe if there were less of the same stultifying self-righteousness in Law Abiding Citizen it wouldn't be a fistful of change shy of mattering.
Opens October 16