Saturday, January 16, 2010

Law Abiding Citizen

Trust Me I'm On Your Side

Law Abiding Citizen is one of those thrillers that has a great premise and idea, but bogged down by so many plot loopholes that it becomes an effortless comedy. What was supposedly an excellent run riddled with implausibilities became even more ridiculous in the final 10 minutes that you'd wonder if anyone had any inkling of a logical conclusion, or had decided to cop it all out to avoid being branded as anti-establishment, and as a result, just plain ordinary lacking the guts to just stick with its plan to the end.

Jamie Foxx stars as hotshot (assistant) district attorney Nick Rice, who boasts an extremely high conviction rate, a fact that he repeats many times, and we learn his dirty little secret was to make deals with the guilty - charge them for less, but they still get charged anyway. A conviction is better than no conviction at all should he lose the case. Too bad his latest case was, in my opinion an open and shut one, and he steps on the shoes of the victim, Clyde Sheldon (Gerard Butler), making a deal with the murderers of his family such that one gets sentenced to death while the other gets a short jail term. Not very ethical, but he gets to chalk up his positive statistics.

The perversion of the justice system gets highlighted, since justice is blind and the law can be manipulated with flip-flopping highly paid lawyers and incompetent judges. So Clyde decides to take on the system and teach them all a lesson. Which is a walk in the park because he's a clandestine strategist, but who had misguided faith in the system which explains why he sits around and does nothing, until 10 years later, which is acceptable according to an old Chinese proverb, to exact some form of revenge, making this like a torture porn outing, but without much of the gore on display.

I'd appreciate the film for its take on vigilantism when the system fails you through its corruption and incompetence, and just how much the limit actually is in order to push a man over the edge to declare war on just everybody, and pissing on the system while at it. Turning the system's tools and procedures over its head and onto the same organization may seem like guilty fun, but when the payback gets a wee bit sophisticated each time, you'd start to wonder on the plausibility of it all, even though it was established that Clyde Shelton is a man who can kill you softly while looking directly at you.

The film boils down to which side will you be on, and who would you root for. There's this shade of gray in both men, one willing to make deals with murderers to keep up his personal record, the other taking the law into his own hands, only to not want to stop when the going gets good, but being more ambitious in wanting to take down the whole system. From his prison cell no less. Although Clyde has a valuable lesson to impart to Nick in that what's important is doing the right thing, it did go a tad overboard in order to amplify its idea, especially with sweeping statements like how the entire city got gripped by the apparent acts of terrorism.

Gerard Butlner plays his character crazed since he's a man with absolutely nothing to lose, though it's quite unbelievable that for someone who's well versed in clandestine operations to be ambushed like you see in the trailers, without so much of a counter-strategy in place. But between the two leads Jamie Foxx seemed a little uncomfortable as he can't really portray that degree of arrogance required, and given the emotional distance from his family director F. Gary Gray failed to allow you to feel Nick's fear when his own family got threatened by Clyde.

But the real stinker was the insult to the audience's intelligence in the final moments which tried way too hard to be clever in introducing an impossible twist which has to involve time travel. It's quite the slap in the face telling you that Fate will shine its light on the powers that be, or on any one else bent on seeking justice, but one must know when to stop before going too far and lady luck begins to turn her attention away. Recommended for the build up, but not its unsatisfying, gutless ending.

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