Law Abiding Citizen
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // $39.98 // February 16, 2010
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted February 11, 2010
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The thriller "Law Abiding Citizen" has the stink of a heroic exploitation experience all over it. Sections of the film practically demand viewer interaction -- the remote-throwing kind that greets cruel turns of fate or broad displays of injustice. When "Citizen" stays in that pocket of unsophisticated manipulation, it puts forth terrific genre energy guaranteed to get the adrenaline racing. However, leave it to the filmmakers to get in the way of a decent film, trying to outwit an audience that just might prefer the simplest ride available.

Having witnessed the murder of his wife and daughter, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler, destroying an American accent yet again) is ready for justice to be served. Up and coming D.A. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) is in charge of the case and eager to make a deal with one of the brutes to send the other to death row. Clyde, witnessing his dreams of justice expire, walks away, allowing Nick to carry out his plan. 10 years later, the two killers end up murdered in gruesome ways, with Clyde the only possible suspect. Instigating a psychological war with Nick, Clyde demands a new type of justice, mysteriously reaching out from behind bars to systematically torment everyone associated with his case (including Leslie Bibb and Bruce McGill). Nick, fearing for his life, races against the clock to crack Clyde's master plan before he targets his wife and child.

When "Law Abiding Citizen" feels comfortable enough to be a blunt object of suspense, it comes together splendidly. Pitting the harsh realities of the modern justice system against the suburban cry for blood from a soccer dad, Kurt Wimmer's screenplay nurtures a pungent odor of injustice that sets up the plot in an exhilarating manner. Morally frozen lawyers? Tired, careless judges? Wimmer manipulates viewer response superbly, bringing the story to a wonderful boil as Nick stands firm to his case-winning percentages and Clyde sulks away, beaten down by the system that was supposed to heal his aching heart.

Now there's a proper set-up for a bracing thriller that respects the fine art of revenge.

Unfortunately, "Citizen" doesn't follow through with its corker of a first act. Director F. Gary Gray toys with the viewer for fair amount of the running time, building the characterizations of the two men as they disagree on what the punishment should be for these heinous crimes. Staying put with Nick the ladder-climbing opportunist and Clyde the meek idealist provides the film with a sensational, unfussy pulse of tension. Wimmer and Gray don't trust that simplicity, and they overreach to contort "Citizen" from a solid thriller to a surprisingly ultraviolent thrill ride.

You see, Clyde has a secret. All men do. Yet, Clyde's secret scrubs away the film's sense of realism and suggestion of fair play. By turning Mr. Rogers into Jason Bourne, the sensation of surprise is smothered. Suddenly everything is larger than life, and Clyde's symphony of revenge plays out like a typical action film, not a sinister pageant of dark justice. Wimmer dreams up one whopper after the next to keep the film rolling, enthusiastically turning "Citizen" into a sci-fi film of sorts with its extreme sequences of comeuppance. By the time a robot shows up in a graveyard to mow down the greater Philadelphia D.A. office, it'll take a heavenly force to keep most eyes from rolling.


"Law Abiding Citizen" is offered in two versions on this BD: A Theatrical Cut (108:49) and an Unrated Director's Cut (118:56). The DC doesn't alter any plotlines, but offers enhanced characterization and, of course, more severe bursts of already energized violence.


The AVC encoded image (2.40:1 aspect ratio) for the "Citizen" Blu-ray reveals some struggle with ghosting issues, which are predominant in the film's frigid outdoor shots. Detail is exceptional here, with precise facial information and special effect displays, most of which are completely seamless. Colors are healthy, with blood reds and snowy whites punching through the best. Shadow detail leaves much to be desired when the action hits claustrophobic settings, losing some visual elements in the process. Cityscapes are superbly evocative, and skintones sustain a natural appearance.


The TrueHD 5.1 audio mix is a highly charged experience that takes the film's suspense cues and hits the listener across the ears with them. This is a movie of short, memorable bursts of violence, and the track respects that punch, offering a loud, but nuanced environment. LFE response is marvelous, with rolling waves of rumble for the explosions. Directional activity is suitable for the jolt-heavy thriller elements, and there's a decent amount of inviting atmospherics with courtroom and prison scenes. Dialogue is offered clearly and with a pleasing fullness, while soundtrack and scoring selections stay somewhat reserved, only pushing their weight around when called upon.


English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.


"Justice of 'Law Abiding Citizen'" (6:15) sits down with two legal minds to discuss the plausibility of the screenplay. It's interesting, if a bit far-fetched.

"Law in Black & White" (15:06) actually takes the color out of the image to make a point of moral ambiguity in this BTS featurette. I think the cast and crew interviews here are a touch on the delusional side, with the production participants genuinely believing they've made a thought-provoking film. The best material is saved for the second half, showcasing rehearsal footage with Foxx, Butler, and Gray.

"Preliminary Arguments: Visual Effects Progression" (6:46) is an overview of the digital tinkering done to the film, with commentary from producer Lucas Foster.

A Theatrical Trailer has been included.


By the final reel, "Citizen" has shed all of its thought-provoking material, morphing completely into a contrived thriller that doesn't fully understand how to close on a satisfying note. Instead of a wicked game of mental chess, we get fireballs. "Law Abiding Citizen" takes the easy route out, assuming that flagrant manipulation requires a cartoon hand. All it really needs is confidence, patience, and someone to boo.

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