Posted by: greercn | December 8, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

This is an astonishing film. Gerard Butler goes from strength to strength as an actor of great charisma and style and – unusually – he wipes the floor with Jamie Foxx, who can only be seen as a foil for the Biblically-attuned and von Clausewitz quoting Butler. Butler’s performance is a tour de force. You will not see a more powerful male lead in anything else this year. Butler owns this movie.

Before the limited opening credits roll, the pace is cranked up to outrageous levels of violence and emotional agony. There is s a home invasion scene of rare power and violence and a brief though peculiarly affecting performance by child actress Ksenia Hulayev as Clyde Shelton’s (Gerard Butler) daughter. The small bracelets she makes for her mother and father run as a leitmotif of innocence lost, throughout the film.

With his wife and daughter dead, Shelton declares revenge on anyone connected with the crime.

Within four minutes of the start, you are rocketed into a book of Job – liberally underscored by von Clausewitz force (and a quotation to match). Director F. Gary Gray won an MTV award for the video of TLC’s “Waterfall” in 1995 and has done lots of other videos for R Kelly, Outkast and others. He brings that visual palette to this movie as he did to the very stylish and fast-paced remake of “The Italian Job” in 2003. (That really was a revisioning, rather than a remake).

The plot hurtles along. With both the actual criminals killed unpleasantly, Shelton starts playing games with Nick Rice’s (Jamie Foxx) head. Shelton holds Rice responsible for the lenient sentence given to one of the criminals and slick and stylish and violence-filled scenes follow. Annie Corley plays a judge killed in a particularly gripping scene.

Shelton is sent to prison but is able to crank up the body count further from his cell. One of the most unexpected scenes of violence – which is never explained – happens when he kills his cell-mate. Vampire blood central, if there is such an organisation, must be drained of all supplies after that scene was filmed.

There’s a stand out performance from Viola Davis as the Mayor although the utterly luminous ex-Ally McBeal actress Regina Hall is wasted as Kelly Rice, Nick’s wife.

Cars blow up. Blood goes everywhere. In the end, the revenge aims to force the justice system to re-examine deals made with criminals and to force lawyers and judges to behave in a better way. The weaponry is stylish and high-tech and Philadelphia acts as a worn-down character. The lessons of “The Wire” have been learned by Gray and he uses the tired city and morally-bankrupt law enforcement system as an allegory of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. There can be no winners here. There are only degrees of loss.

I didn’t look at my watch once. It keeps a breathless pace and sucks you in. It combines the style of a music video with the best of crime and film noir conventions. If your stomach can take it, you’ll be talking about this movie for some time to come. That is especially true if you spent any time attending Sunday School or teaching at it. If a more moral and Christian film has been made this year, I missed it. As this is the 100th movie I have seen in 2009, not counting DVDs or movies on TV, it’s unlikely I missed anything this special.

Butler is a massive star. How he can top this in 2010, I cannot even begin to imagine.



  1. Beautifully written, as ever. Congratulations on your 100 misspent evenings. Do you realise that if it hadn’t been for the disappearance of the B movie it would have been 200?

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