March 18, 2010
I Am the Law
If you visit Rotten Tomatoes on a regular basis, you’re likely aware that Law Abiding Citizen, which recently released on DVD and Blu-ray, was almost unanimously panned by critics. This added to my trepidation as I recently added the film to my Netflix queue, and when it arrived in the mail this afternoon my first thought was, “I might as well get this over with.” Well, guess what—not only is Law Abiding Citizen an engrossing movie, it’s actually steeped in some fairly hefty philosophical musings about our modern justice system.
The plot centers on two men. One is an up-and-coming Philadelphia lawyer (Foxx) who will stop at nothing to keep his conviction rate among the very best, the other is a brilliant engineer (Butler) who prides himself on being the quintessential “family man.” After the latter sees his family brutally slain, his grief-fueled delirium is sent over the top when one of the men involved in the crime is sentenced to only 5 years in prison. After our anti-hero engineer is arrested some years later for the murder of one of the men, the questions begin to pile up. What we end up with is a revenge story that, as mentioned earlier, proposes some genuinely disturbing observations about the US legal system.
What’s most surprising about the film is how curt it is. You’ll be appalled by instances of extreme gore and violence, but these are shocking in the sense that you’ll be kept on the edge of your seat (really, they serve no purpose otherwise). The same could be said about the rather abrupt conclusion—which many have labeled as patently absurd—but this is a minor gripe given the solid string of successes the movie is able to claim. And these, of course, are directly connected to the “how’s-he-doing-it” nature of the story. At it’s heart Law Abiding Citizen is a mystery movie, though it does strive for something more subtextual (which, though admirable, is never fully realized). Still, you’ll find yourself constantly trying to figure out how the crazed engineer is pulling off each one of his assassinations from behind bars, and though the final revelation is a tad unbelievable, it’s not so ridiculous that it ruins the entire film. It’s fairly clever, in fact, and, for my money, I felt that the payoff was worth the wait.
If anything, what hurts the movie is the lack of motivation regarding the murders that started it all. Apparently, the men who stormed said engineer’s home had no other motivation than the fact that they were coke fiends who just felt like doing something dastardly. And, of course, the promise of ideological exploration that’s so often referenced is never explored in full, but, really, that’s not why you’re seeing a movie like this.
Law Abiding Citizen is all about keeping its audience guessing. And, on that front, it does quite well.
out of 5
Check out one of the trailers for Law Abiding Citizen: