Law Abiding Citizen is the story of a man who, by the end of the film, is anything but law abiding; Clyde Shelton’s (Gerard Butler, Gamer) life is brutally altered when his wife and daughter are murdered before his eyes during the film’s opening few minutes, and feeling betrayed by the justice system (after a prosecutor makes a deal with one of the murderers in order to guarantee a conviction over the other, at the behest of Clyde who wanted a full trial) he decides to take his revenge on not only the people that killed his family, but the entirety of the broken system that allowed them to get away with it.
The majority of the film takes place a full ten years after the initial attack on Shelton’s family (it does take some time to plan the downfall of society, and a hundreds of years old legal system, singlehandedly) and begins by following his prosecutor, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx, The Kingdom) to the execution of one of the men who attacked the Shelton’s; which ends up being a great deal more painful than originally intended; and showcasing some of Shelton’s more vengeful antics that will eventually land him in jail.
And yet it is from the comfort of his prison cell that Clyde will attempt to exact the majority of his plan; somehow managing to still affect the lives of the prosecutors after being locked up (by killing, kidnapping, and sending unwanted packages to legal officials family members); and it is during this time, when the prosecutors know that Clyde is guilty but can’t quite prove it, or figure out how he is still killing, that the film is at its best, and the real cat and mouse game between the bewildered Nick, and the ruthless Clyde, is at its peak.
Possibly the best thing about the film is simply witnessing the way in which Clyde completely batters the legal system and those involved with it; twisting it to serve his own means via any methods necessary; and failing to anticipate his moves or work out exactly how they are pulled off, because when he does something unexpected to the prosecution it is always so shocking and cleverly brilliant that it will make every viewer smile with guilty admiration (whether that move be calling a judge a “bitch on heat”, stabbing a prisoner with a spork, or conning the prosecutors into fetching him a steak dinner).
The cast is also very strong, with Butler fitting surprisingly well into the Hannibal Lector like tactician, and doing an excellent job of portraying the wide range of emotions that the part calls for; helplessness, anger, ferocity, or simply remaining totally focussed in a cold and calculating manner; his vigilante inspired terrorist antics however aren’t without sympathy (surely someone should pay for the murders?), and he plays the part of the vulnerable man on a mission, with nothing to lose, in a believable and fascinating manner that makes for a character who is difficult not to like, or at least understand.
Likewise his opposite, Jamie Foxx, gives an excellent performance, and although his character is not as multi-faceted as Butlers’, he appears every bit as stubborn and determined to stop the killings as he should, and there’s also a great chemistry between the two actors, who have a back and forth that is easy to watch, completely engrossing and believable; it’s not up to the awe inspiring level of the Al Pacino/Robert De Niro scene in Heat, but there’s still a very good energy between the pair.
Filing out the supporting cast is Bruce McGill (Collateral) as District Attorney Jonas Cantrell, Colm Meaney (Star Trek: The Next Generation) as a rather average detective with a gruff demeanour and a sense of hopelessness, Leslie Bibb (Iron Man) as a vulnerable assistant prosecutor, come would be investigator, and Michael Irby (The Unit) as another gun-toting detective whose clueless as to how Clyde should be stopped. None of whom are especially big-name actors, but all fulfil their respective roles more than adequately; even if their performances aren’t especially memorable.
The film’s premise is a tried and tested one, but the fact that Clyde targets the whole system that allowed his family’s murderers to go free, rather than just the murderers themselves (as classic disheartened heroes such as Mad Max and The Punisher often do) is undeniably interesting, because he clearly has a valid point, but it is left up to each viewer to decide if he is the hero, and doing the right thing, or simply a misguided vigilante who’s gone a step too far (the filmmakers intentionally refused to take obvious sides, although they do seem to sway in just into Shelton’s favour).
It’s true that the film has several problems; it can be a touch over the top at times (a certain scene where one of Shelton’s former colleagues discusses his ability with the prosecutors in an underpass is a prime example), even making Clyde look somewhat God like in his power to disrupt not only an entire prison, or the extensive U.S. legal system, but the whole city of Philadelphia, and aside from the two main protagonists, features a range of characters that have little more than one dimension to their personalities; but nevertheless it is an interesting story, that maintains a fantastic pace, and is extremely well told, which is why it will ring a positive note with the majority of people who watch it.
Law Abiding Citizen then, despite the boring sounding title, is a fun filled, adrenaline fuelled, ride of a film that begins with a scorching pace, and continues to shock and amaze viewers through its entire runtime. On retrospect the problems with the story and characterization come to light, but while it’s playing, it is one of the most fun and enjoyable action thrillers that have been released for some time; it’s a must for anyone who likes their action to come with a little intellect (there’s a touch of mystery in trying to figure out just how Clyde’s keeping ahead of the game), and their thrillers to be packed full of cat and mouse fun; it’s an epic battle of good versus evil where you’re never sure which side is which. Ok some bits are over the top, but when the story is this well told, and this entertaining, nobody cares; Law Abiding Citizen is what it is, a fun and engaging action thriller that will please most film fans.
The 1080p transfer given to Law Abiding Citizen is near flawless, yet still far from dazzling as its palette is left largely devoid of colour (although what colour there is, and especially primaries, are very well represented and fairly natural looking, as are the fleshtones), and the overall print has a fairly flat and soft look to it, however, despite the overall soft looking nature of the transfer, black levels are fairly inky and do provide a degree of depth to the picture, as does the precise level of fine object detail and texturing that compliments facial imperfections and makes everything appear more real.
While the picture may not be dazzling, a large portion of the blame belongs to the director, who showed little visual flair and really provided no stunning showcase moments to show off the capabilities of this disc, which actually renders the picture it has in fantastic quality; with practically no visible errors on the print (no signs of banding, crush or edge enhancement are visible); meaning that although the video is technically sound, it’s still not reference material, and far from the most stunning picture that Blu-ray has to offer.
The 5.1 Dolby True-HD audio track that accompanies Law Abiding Citizen is not overly aggressive, but features plenty of activity from all channels and, like the picture, it isn’t overly flashy, but is still technically sound. Ambient noises come in a wide variety of forms and are always exceptional in creating a realistic feeling space that totally fits what’s happening on screen. Likewise the dialogue is excellently reproduced and perfectly prioritized against the action filled backdrops; which in themselves sound fantastic, as directionality and movement sound convincingly real, rear channels are used to good effect, and there is a satisfying level of bass attached.
Listening to Law Abiding Citizen’s audio track never quite manages to induce the same auditory wow-factor that series such as Band of Brothers did, or films like The Matrix, did but what sounds there are here are well reproduced, perfectly clear and well prioritized, and all nicely blended to create a realistically immersive soundfield; again technically sound, just not overly memorable.
Kicking of the rather limited collection of special features is a featurette called “Law in Black and White – Behind the Scenes”, which is a fairly standard behind the scenes feature that contains some on-set footage, short clips showing the creation of some shots and visual effects, and features interviews with the cast and crew praising each other and the film, and discussing what it was like to shoot in Philadelphia; a standard feature that doesn’t do anything to stand out from other making of shorts, but should prove of interest to the films fans as it does delve into some production aspects and explain a little about how the story itself was crafted.
Also included is an interesting feature entitled “The Justice of ‘Law Abiding Citizen’” that features conversations with the cast and crew, and a real prosecutor, discussing the legal ramifications of the film’s original case (the murder of Clyde Shelton’s wife and daughter), the problems with eye-witness testimony, and the option of the plea-bargain; it’s a well made, insightful feature that is a nice and thoughtful inclusion, only it’s a touch too short, and as a result anybody that watches won’t really learn too much about the legal system.
Finally there’s another short feature that focuses on the progression of the film’s visual effects, and cover five of the movie’s sequences from original concept ideas through the their final digital composites; it’s an interesting enough feature, although fairly short, and will again probably only really appeal to the film’s real fans, as will the included trailers.
Overall the bonus features provided are fairly limited, and the majority will only appeal to real fans of the film; the behind the scenes is an average making of, and the effects featurette is interesting enough, but nothing to shout about; although the ‘Justice’ featurette is an excellent inclusion that shows just how realistic the first act of the film is, and how it wouldn’t matter if someone really did see a crime like up close, the murders could walk. A small collection of ‘special’ features, but one that will undoubtedly appeal to the film’s fans, and provides something for casual viewers as well.
The bottom Line:
Summing up, Law Abiding Citizen is a thoroughly entertaining watch; it features a great cast that act superbly, in a story where there’s an element of mystery, a bit of action, moral and legal aspects to the plot, and a cat and mouse, vengeance based, thriller that is sure to engross anybody that watches it.
The picture and audio on the Blu-ray may not be too attention grabbingly dazzling; even seeming fairly muted and soft for the majority of the time; but faithfully reproduce their source material, in a technically sound manner, and still remain way above what can be seen or heard on the DVD edition.
Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler play off each other extremely well, in this interesting story that has a premise, and an execution, that makes for a gripping and enjoyable thriller, that shouldn’t be taken too seriously (because then it’s over the top nature will begin to seem ludicrous), and is well made, well acted, and well worth a watch.