Anchor Bay // 2009 // 118 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // February 8th, 2010
Justice at any cost.
Yet another film arrives on Blu-ray that dares to ask the question: Is Gerard Butler really a movie star? Let's find out the answer...in HD!
During a home invasion, small-time inventor Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler, The Ugly Truth) watches as his wife and daughter are murdered and he is left for dead. Because of inefficiencies in the legal system, the city prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx, Miami Vice) isn't able to get much justice against the two men responsible. Shelton decides to take matters into his own hands, seeking revenge not just against his family's killers, but against every person within the system that let him and his family down -- even from within the walls of the prison where he's being held.
The 2009 revenge thriller Law Abiding Citizen is trash masquerading as art. Say what you will about the Saw franchise, but at least those films don't pretend to be anything than one they are: quick, dirty, sleazy little works of violence. Law Abiding Citizen (a title which, by the way, doesn't really make any sense at all...but it sounds cool, right? Say it in that same voice the trailer guy uses to say "In a world..." and it sounds like an actual movie, doesn't it?) boasts better production values, an A-list cast (including Oscar-winner Foxx) and a respectably workmanlike director (F. Gary Gray, The Italian Job) and comes up with a package that's worse than the Saw movies, because it's dishonest about what it is. It's just as sleazy and violent and stupid, and had it embraced any of those qualities I might have found myself enjoying it. Instead, it tries to pass for an actual crime thriller that ought to be taken seriously. Nope. Not buying it.
Things begin well enough. Sure, there's some genuine unpleasantness as we watch Gerard Butler's wife murdered and nearly raped (in that order), and while I might argue that the film seems to dwell on that ugliness longer than it needs to I was willing to see where things would go -- the ugliness might be part of the overall aesthetic. Butler's revenge plan is preposterous, but lots of movies I like are preposterous. Even when Butler is taken to jail but still seems to be carrying out some grand scheme (filled with outrageous, convoluted contraptions that owe something to the Saw films), I was doing my best to give the film the benefit of the doubt. Law Abiding Citizen did not hold up its end of the bargain. It only proceeded to get slower and dumber, twisting itself into a series of reveals designed to rationalize the ridiculousness of the plot but only succeeding in further insulting my intelligence. By the time the movie lurched to its inevitable and inevitably silly climax, I couldn't wait for the whole thing to be over.
Exploitation movies should, at the very least, be entertaining. In fact, that's all they need to be. Very few actually come out of Hollywood; the last one I can think of is James Wan's Death Sentence. That movie had a lot of problems -- a lot -- but it boasted a solid performance from Kevin Bacon, it was entertaining (in its own ugly way) and it fully embraced its own trashiness. It was a violent revenge movie, plain and simple. Law Abiding Citizen shoots itself in the foot (or, more appropriately, cuts it off with a band saw) by shooting for intelligence and respectability and coming up way short. Had screenwriter Kurt Wimmer simplified the film at the story level -- reducing it to its more basic elements -- rather than constantly attempting to explain its more outlandish elements (like how Butler is able to carry out elaborate revenge death-traps from prison) with more and more exposition, it could have worked. Or maybe it's F. Gary Gray who's wrong for the film; he's a fine director, but his greatest skills seem to be making a movie polished and appealing for mass audiences. It's the approach he takes here, but it's the wrong one. Law Abiding Citizen stands smack-dab in the middle of the sewage and tries to tell us it's not getting dirty.
Perhaps an even bigger problem is that the film gives us no one to root for. When Butler begins taking out the guys responsible for killing his family, it's impossible not to be on his side (though he loses us with his methods, because yikes). He quickly reaches the tipping point, though, where it's not really revenge and it's just mass murder. So he loses us. It's at this point where we should finally be sympathizing with Jamie Foxx's lawyer character, who up till now has been a bit of an arrogant prick and impossible to like. Unfortunately, the movie and Foxx let us down here, too. Sure, we stick with Foxx's character for the rest of the film (by the way, I don't have a law degree so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, but is it common for lawyers to literally work side-by-side with the police to solve cases and chase down suspects? I thought they mostly stuck to the law), but we never learn anything more about him or warm up to him in any way. He's the hero of the story, but that doesn't make him at all sympathetic or interesting. He's just the guy we spend the most time with. Butler, on the other hand, has the far more interesting character but fails to do much with it. I've got nothing against him as an actor and he's always fine in movies (though I wish he would stop trying to pass for an American, because he's about as convincing a Yank as Kevin Costner is a Brit), but I have yet to see him give one star-making role. Sure, he was the lead in 300 and that movie made a ton of money, but I would contend it was for reasons having nothing to do with Butler. He's one of these guys that's been made into a movie star without ever really doing anything to deserve the title (other beneficiaries of this phenomenon include Matthew McConaughey, Paul Walker and Ben Affleck [the actor]). He's been given a role here that, performed right, could have been reason enough alone to recommend the movie. Like everything else in Law Abiding Citizen, he's bland and forgettable.
Anchor Bay's two-disc Blu-ray release of Law Abiding Citizen offers up two versions of the film: on the first disc is the 118-minute "unrated director's cut," while the second disc holds the original theatrical version that runs about nine minutes shorter. I didn't have the patience to sit through the film twice, meaning I only watched the longer "unrated" cut. Though there is a shocking amount of violence -- particularly for a mainstream Hollywood movie -- it doesn't make up much of the film's running time, meaning that while there might be a few extra frames in the unrated cut, I'd wager that the nine extra minutes are comprised of additional dialogue and character beats. The 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is excellent, demonstrating impressive consistency and loads of fine detail. The visuals of the film are mostly grey and washed out, meaning it's not going to look as striking as many other HD titles, but the filmmaker's intentions are honored and reproduced quite well. The TruHD 5.1 audio track is equally strong, showing aggression when it needs to (sharp attacks and lots of low end in the subwoofer) but mostly just delivering the dialogue in a straightforward way. It's not a showy disc, nor should it be.
The bonus material found on the two-disc Blu-ray ranges from average to disappointing, much like the film itself. The majority of the supplemental features can be found on the first disc and consist mostly of standard featurettes: "The Justice of Law Abiding Citizen" focuses on the legal logistics involved in the film (while the piece tries to put a realistic spin on everything in the movie, it couldn't be more ludicrous; "Law in Black and White: Behind the Scenes" is a traditional behind-the-scenes puff piece, only in black and white (because that's what makes it different!); "Preliminary Arguments" is a multi-part feature on the visual effects. The film's original trailer is also included.
On the second disc is a commentary track from producers Alan Siegel and Lucas Foster. While I initially balked at the idea of "producers-only" commentary for Law Abiding Citizen, the track ended up better than I expected as Siegel and Foster approach the film at just a different enough angle (as opposed to the usual director or actor commentaries) to make it interesting. Their discussions are fairly predictable, covering the production background, the making of the movie and some of what's happening on screen. It's not a bad listen overall, but it's also not the kind of thing you'd ever go back to.
Seriously, what is
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Official Site