Anchor Bay // 2009 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // February 16th, 2010
Justice at ANY Cost
This movie is posing a problem for me in that the aspect of the film I most which to discuss is a massive spoiler. I've wracked my brain for days to come at this from another angle, but I'm drawing a blank. I must thus apologize as the bulk of my review will reveal the conclusion to the movie. Avoid the parts marked between the SPOILER tags if you just want to know about the disc.
Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler, 300) is a loving husband and father, but his world will be forever ruined when two men break into his house and kill his family. The bad guys are arrested and the case is given to prosecuting attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx, The Soloist), an up-and-comer in the office. Nick has a 96 percent conviction rate, and he's more concerned with maintaining that high percentage than going after the criminals. So he bargains out the case with one of the men snitching on the other. Clyde doesn't want that. He wants justice against both men and pleads with Nick to try the case. But Nick won't.
Ten years later and the one man who was tried and convicted is on death row, about to receive his lethal injection. It goes horribly wrong, with him writhing in intense pain before dying. Quickly enough we learn that Clyde has concocted a master plan to avenge his lost wife and daughter, bringing justice against everyone in the system that let down his family.
Before traipsing into the realm of the spoiler, I'll remark that the premise of Law Abiding Citizen (LAC) is preposterous yet intriguing. How far would one go if determined to be a vigilante and seek out "justice"? None of us, sanely, would go so far, but it creates an interesting premise for a movie; a movie that you can look at as either drama or thriller. LAC has an added level of depth of complexity thanks to the emotional turmoil that Gerard Butler magnificently brings to life in the opening minutes. You can see and believe the enormous pain he's experiencing, and thus understand why he would go over the edge.
And in that understanding of Clyde's pain, an odd thing happens in that you end up rooting for him. It also prompted by the fact that Nick Rice is a pompous ass, more interested in his personal gains and personal definition of success than true justice for his clients. Nick believes that some justice is better than no justice, but Clyde would rather try for total justice than give in to the easy way out. Clyde is thus compelled to use his brain to wreck chaos on the men who killed his family, against the system that allows such loopholes to exist, and lastly against Nick. And you are rooting for Clyde to succeed. You want him to hurt and kill these people. You know it's wrong for him to commit murder, but you understand that justice is often deserved; and that shaking the system from its complacency often requires shocking actions.
You root for Clyde. You applaud each time he is successful. You lament the fact that, in the end, he is not entirely successful. You regret that Nick figures out his machinations and saves the day. You want Clyde to win, and you wish he simply would get away with it. Who cares that Nick finally sees the light. Let's allow Clyde's family to earn their rightful vengeance.
And yet it's all wrong for you to root for Clyde and his evil justice. Two wrongs don't make a right. An eye for an eye mentality is not how we enforce justice. We need to obey the rules, conform to them, and work within the system to right the wrongs. We often will fail in playing by the rules, but breaking the rules ourselves -- especially in an onslaught of mass murder -- truly makes us worse than those who wrong us.
But watching Clyde do what he does from inside the jail cell makes for a cool movie.
This DVD from Anchor Bay is a spot on the lackluster side. Video is 2.40:1 anamorphic and doesn't please the eye. Whether it was an artistic choice by director F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator) or it's a result of a weak transfer process, the video is gray, dull, and lifeless. Colors are accurate but wholly subdued, blacks are soft, and details never pop. The whole picture is just blah, never exciting -- even the big explosions don't ignite with a ferocious burst of orange and red. Audio fares better with its Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Dialogue is consistently clean and clear from the center, the surrounds create appropriate ambience and immersion, and the LFE puts out bass in all the right places. It's a good audio track but not one you'll bring out to impress the friends.
Bonus materials are also a touch underwhelming -- good but not extensive or thorough. Things start off with an audio commentary track featuring Producers Lucas Foster and Alan Siegel. You know something odd is afoot when you only get producers -- no director and no stars. Nonetheless it's a decent listen, revealing a nice mixture of technical and personal stories about the production. "The Justice of Law Abiding Citizen" (6:17) discusses the movie's connection to real law and evidence, working to rationalize and explain Nick's decisions in the movie. "Law in Black & White: Behind the Scenes" (15:07) is exactly what the title says; it's the behind-the-scenes featurette, which is filmed entirely in black and white. This is a decent featurette that goes a little deep, but I was getting bored near the end. "Preliminary Arguments: Visual Effects Progressions" (6:53) explains the use of special effects in five key scenes in the movie. "The Verdict: Winning Trailer Mash-Up" is a trailer for the movie but not the official trailer. I don't know where it's from or why it's included, as the official trailer is also included.
Law Abiding Citizen is a tour-de-force for Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx, showcasing the raw power of grief fighting the boundaries of law. Both men give spectacular performances; all surrounded by an ingenious plot and superb action sequences. You'll wonder how it's all happening until the shocking end!
I like the idea behind Law Abiding Citizen, and it's honestly held together with strong performances by Butler and Foxx. Then you sprinkle in some tense and exciting action sequences and the movie gets a little better. Yet once it's all done you realize a little something is missing. Is it the ending? It probably is, but your mileage may vary. The disc's video didn't impress me, feeling bland and blah, but the audio is stronger yet not great. Bonus materials offer a little look inside the movie but fail to dig deep. On the whole, I think LAC makes an interesting rental but I can't give it a bigger recommendation.
Law Abiding Citizen is hereby found guilty of indecent sporking.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R