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Friday, April 23, 2010

Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

This might seem an odd choice to cover on a blog such as this, but it’s actually a polished exploitation movie from a director who has made some exciting genre films within his career, not to mention some great music videos but then again he’s also responsible for some pretty shoddy studio movies too. F. Gary Gray’s 1995 directorial debut was ‘hood’ comedy-classic Friday, starring Ice Cube, whom Gray had worked with on Cube’s excellent ‘It Was a Good Day’ video, and Chris Tucker as a couple of stoners who are about to get in over their head with a neighbourhood drug dealer. He followed that up with Set It Off in 1996, an underrated heist movie featuring all women bank robbers which was notable for Queen Latifah’s performance. His big break followed shortly with The Negotiator in 1998.

The Negotiator was Gray’s first studio movie, with a big-budget and big names attached. Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson star as titular hostage negotiators, the twist being that a hostage negotiator is actually holding hostages after a cover-up incriminates him erroneously and forces him to take desperate actions in order to clear his name. It’s one of 90’s action cinemas finest and holds up even today, Graeme Revell score is a thing of beauty I might add. Too bad it was all down film from there, with The Italian Job re-make, Vin Diesel disaster A Man Part and the terrible Get Shorty sequel, Be Cool taking up space on his CV throughout the noughties.

Law Abiding Citizen is a powerful return to form. It’s also very reminiscent of 80’s vigilante flicks that you’d expect Bill Lustig and Larry Cohen to have produced; only it benefits from modern technology and a greater budget. After the vicious murder of his wife and daughter, Clyde Shelton is devastated to learn that the lead perpetrator in the act has coped a plea with the prosecution, lead by Nick Rice, that will see him charged with 3rd degree murder for pinning the blame on his partner in crime. 10 years later and it’s execution time for Ames, the unwilling partner, however things don’t go to plan and his injection tank has been replaced with some sort of acidic chemical causing a violent death.

Baffled by the act, Nick tries to locate Darby, the man who made a deal with him 10 years previous. Unfortunately for him Shelton gets to him first, paralyzing him and slowly torturing him to death whole filming the act. Once the body is discovered Rice wastes no time in tracking Shelton down, who willingly goes with the police for interrogation. During the interview Shelton confesses that he did wish them dead, but does not give a full confession, if Rice wants that he has to bargain with him and meet a series of demands; demands that appear trivial but carry a heavy consequence if they aren’t, met as Rice will find out. Shelton is about to wage war upon the system that stole justice from him… and it’s going to be biblical.

Starting with the brutal home invasion of Shelton, it’s obvious from the get-go that the film isn’t going to shy away from the violence. It’s gritty, hard-to-watch and a horribly realistic depiction of barbarity that will offend, disturb or revolt the viewer; which is what makes the film so gripping, watching to see how far they will take it. One scene of violence will stun even the hardened of gore hounds, it’s a single-take bloodbath of crushing carnage that rivals the fire extinguisher scene from Gasper Noe’s revenge tale Irreversible for shock value. This is the stand-out piece however that towers over all the explosives that follow after it, it’s the shocking realism of violence that elevates the film and makes it memorable – explosions are fun, but they’re rarely memorable.

Gerard Butler steels the film as the vengeful Shelton, he’s a man pushed over the edge not but an act of violence, but by an act of injustice. Plotting his payback over a decade, he truly means it when he says that he plans on bringing down the justice system on those who thrive within it. It’s a full bloodied story that will have the majority of its audience on Shelton’s side for the opening half, the line begins to blur as it seems as if he has snapped and become no better than the animals that snatched his family from him. He may believe he’s doing the right thing, hell maybe some will agree that he is, but can the taking of innocent peoples lives ever be justified? To the films credit it remains unbiased in its depiction, allowing audiences to question the actions within the film and come to their own conclusion.

The film looses it’s urgency after the first 50 minutes as the film changes focus from Shelton executing his plans to Rice trying to prevent him from continuing his revenge; even though he’s in prison the whole time! The ending might prove frustrating for some, it’s not a gun-ho finale but a more restraint effort which deals more with the complexities of the characters actions and walks that fine line between right and wrong which again will depend on the viewer. It’s a great premise that provides its audience with two solid hours of bone-crushing entertainment. It’s a return to form for F. Gary Gray and it proves that Gerard Butler can find work outside of chick-flicks! Too bad Gray’s next scheduled film is a sequel to the re-make of The Italian Job. Here’s hoping he has some more quality genre films up his sleeve for us.

Purchase the DVD here or Blu-ray here.

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