Jamie Foxx as Nick Rice
Gerard Butler as Clyde Shelton
Colm Meaney as Detective Dunnigan
Bruce McGill as Jonas Cantrell
Leslie Bibb as Sarah Lowell
Michael Irby as Detective Garza
Gregory Itzin as Warden Iger
Regina Hall as Kelly Rice
Emerald-Angel Young as Denise Rice
Christian Stolte as Clarence Darby
Annie Corley as Judge Laura Burch
Richard Portnow as Bill Reynolds
Viola Davis as Mayor
Michael Kelly as Bray
Josh Stewart as Rupert Ames
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Strong performances by Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx drive this smart, sharp thriller that will keep you guessing with shocks and surprises at every turn.
After watching his wife and daughter being slaughtered in a home invasion, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) hopes to get justice through the normal criminal system but when one of the killers gets off light, Clyde takes matters into his own hands and ends up being put into jail by prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), who quickly learns that Clyde’s revenge didn’t just end with the killers, forcing Nick to try to stay one step ahead of the killer.
Thrillers are such a Hollywood mainstay there are rarely any surprises because it’s so much easier to follow a formula that’s worked well in the past than to try something different. Because of this, one can probably count on one hand the number of thrillers in the last ten years that have truly made an impact, and everything else always feels derivative.
While “Law Abiding Citizen” is a similar two-handed performance-driven thriller as some of those others, there’s more involved than the usual protagonist-antagonist conflict with rugs being pulled out from both sides insuring that the film rarely allows itself to be pinned down. One minute it’s a courtroom drama, the next it’s a revenge thriller, and there’s enough ambiguity about the motivation of the two lead characters you’re not likely to guess how many of the twists might play out. That said, the movie is infinitely better when you don’t know anything going in, which makes it that much harder to get too detailed while writing about it.
When we first meet Gerard Butler’s Clyde, he seems like a regular family man. He is tinkering with some gadget as his young daughter looks on, just before two men show up and kill his wife and the girl before his very eyes. Months later, the main guy responsible is getting a light sentence for turning in his less-involved associate and Clyde is not happy about it. It may seem like a simple enough plot of a man trying to get revenge on those responsible for the murder of his wife and child, but nothing after that is standard or by-the-books. What Jamie Foxx’s prosecutor Nick Rice doesn’t realize is that Clyde has deliberately gotten himself arrested after devising a grisly revenge for the convicted murderers, and we learn there’s more to this seemingly innocent man. We start seeing Clyde as a crafty strategist who is always one step ahead of the prosecutor, and it’s that revelation that allows the movie to veer far off the path one normally might see taken with this genre.
In Clyde, Gerard Butler has found a great role for himself, as he’s equally as credible as a victim as he is when he transforms into a Hannibal Lecter like anti-hero who’ll have you rooting for the “bad guy” as he starts doling out his own brand of justice. Even so, there will certainly be times when he crosses the line and the movie gets even more interesting as it really makes you question whether you’re supporting the right side of the conflict.
On the other side of the coin, the film spends a bit of extra time trying to flesh out Jamie Foxx’s character to make him seem like more than just a corrupt lawyer. They do this by showing his time at home with his wife and daughter, as a counterpoint to Clyde’s own loss. The supporting performances are generally solid with some nice surprises from the against-type casting of Regina Hall and Leslie Bibb as Foxx’s wife and assistant, respectively, both of them pulling off strong dramatic performances, and one can easily accept Viola Davis as the mayor of a major metropolis.
At times, the movie feels like an indictment of the justice system and how hot-shot prosecutors make deals in order to add to their conviction rate. It’s the political motivations behind the decisions that forces Clyde to go through the criminal system himself in order to uncover the wrongdoings from the inside. Much of the movie involves the two men facing off as Clyde constantly keeps Nick guessing what he might do next and how he’s pulling off some of the most elaborate plans. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of what Christopher Nolan did in “The Dark Knight” to create a conflict that evolves with every plot development.
Working from one of Kurt Wimmer’s better-developed scripts, the film is visually a step forward for director F. Gary Gray (“The Italian Job”), as he turns Philadelphia into the perfect backdrop for the story and creates the perfect mood and tone for what ends up being quite a riveting film. He also finds ways of setting up the bigger twists without telegraphing them, leading to a number of great “Oh, sh*t!” moments one rarely gets anymore. The ending might not be as satisfying as some of the moments leading up to it, and a couple of the more elaborate traps might require a suspension of disbelief beyond what some might be capable of–in fact, the entire premise could seem far-fetched to some–but one can certainly appreciate the originality of the premise that helps set this thriller apart from others.
The Bottom Line:
This is a surprisingly thoughtful take on the revenge thriller, one that contains enough ambiguity and grey area surrounding the two main characters you can enjoy their face-offs without necessarily taking sides. Either way, the less you know about the movie going in, the more you’re likely to have fun with it.