“A Law Abiding Citizen”

Don’t Mess with the Law Abiding Citizen
“A Law Abiding Citizen.” F. Gary Gray, director. Warp Film, 108 minutes.
Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is an ordinary law abiding citizen, enjoying a few minutes of hobby time with his daughter (Ksenia Hulayev, in a brief but enchanting performance) when the nightmare we all fear happens: Opening the front door to greet the take-out deliverer, he is greeted instead by two burly men who stab him, stab his wife, snatch their valuables, and then grab their daughter on the way out. Mother and daughter die. Clyde survives. I’m not sure which is the worse fate.
But the nightmare isn’t over. Now he has to face the criminal justice system. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) is an up-and-coming prosecutor with a conviction rate of 96 percent. There are only three reasons a prosecutor gets that high of a rate: either the police are that close to 100 percent in arresting the perpetrator (fat chance), the D.A.’s office is viciously aggressive (often the case), or the D.A is offering some sweet deals to save the court some money and assure a conviction. Deals are bad for two reasons: bad guys get shorter sentences, and innocent folks often confess to crimes they did not commit out of fear that they might lose in court. Rice is a deal maker.
Usually when two or more people are arrested for a crime, the first one to sing walks away with the deal and the others spend years in prison. That’s what happens in this story. Clarence Darby (Christian Stolte), is the one who wielded the knife and murdered the family. He cuts the deal, blaming his accomplice, Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart), who actually urged Darby to let the family go and just take the valuables. The accomplice gets the death penalty while the murderer gets eight years.
The father gets angry.
The rest of the film is a tense, twisted dish of revenge served cold with a topping of hot fudge. A brilliant inventor, Shelton spends ten years devising a plan to get back at everyone involved–the murderer, the judge, the police detectives, the D.A., and of course the cocky prosecutor. And he does it from an isolated prison cell, after being arrested for killing Darby. How does he do it? He must have an accomplice on the outside, but how do they communicate?
Villains are always the most interesting characters in a play or movie, and when they are particularly smart or diabolical they are even more fun to watch. Add to that a righteous motive like avenging the death of a wife and daughter, and we can even like the guy–to a point. But Shelton’s techniques are often shocking, sadistic and brutal. Fortunately director F. Gary Gray uses more dread than horror to create suspense, letting us squirm at the anticipation of a torture scene without having to endure watching it. Yes, there is some blood, copious spurts of it in fact, but those scenes are well telegraphed and brief.
“A Law Abiding Citizen” is not a great movie, but it’s a good movie. You’ll end up talking about the weaknesses of the judicial system and the overreaching arm of homeland security after watching the show. Rice excuses his deal making with a dismissive, “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove.” The judge (Annie Corley) gloats at one critical moment, “I’m the judge–I can do pretty much whatever I want.” At another critical point the D.A. shouts “F– his civil rights.” And the head of Homeland Security shuts the entire city down, ordering people to stay inside their houses even though one specific group of people has been targeted and identified. More than that, you will enjoy a fast-paced thriller with a kicking soundtrack. Break out the popcorn.

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