Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Law Abiding Citizen
This is a revenge flick, so somebody needs to die, right? Gerard Butler's wife and daughter are murdered before his eyes; there are two men involved, one that is clearly unwilling to spill blood, and the other that likes to kill and is obviously in charge. When both men are arrested, the Assistant District Attorney (Jamie Foxx) makes a deal with the bloodthirsty crook, in order to guarantee a conviction and get the timid crook a death sentence. Butler doesn't like this, but it was Foxx's call to make, and he made it. Ten years later, Gerard Butler starts killing everyone involved in the case, from the criminals to the judge to the DA's office. The twist is that Butler allows himself to be arrested...and the killings not only continue, but increase.
Whoa! What a twist! How does Butler do it? Well, you have to thank Kurt Wimmer, the screenwriter for this beauty as well as Ultraviolet and Equilibrium, because it does not make much logical sense. Okay, the reason Butler is able to kill people, even when he's locked up in prison, is because he is a strategist. No, really, that's why. Because he can plan stuff. Okay, fine. Butler's a long-established military genius who...no, wait...when the movie opens, he's an inventor of gadgets. Hmm...well, I guess this generation changes occupations more often than our parents did. How do you get into that field, I wonder...is there an application? Is there a check box for revenge-fueled inventors? No matter. The dude can plan stuff, and that stuff is death.
Now that would be pretty cool if it was how the movie played out. If Butler was a Bobby Fisher-level chess genius who could see ten steps ahead, it would be pretty sweet to see all the mean stuff he would set up. Instead, what we get here is a remote-controlled car outfitted with missiles and a lot of car bombs. Heck, my creepy high school lab partner can do that. I will admit that there is a totally awesome cell phone-related death, but that's definitely the only original kill. At first, there is an air of mystery to how Butler does all this, but the last fifth of the movie answers almost everything. Understanding how Butler does it could be awesome, especially if it was treated as a moment of recognition where everything clicks for Jamie Foxx's character. Instead, we get answers that aren't terribly original or interesting.
Where does this movie fail, aside from plot originality and violence? In the area of nudity, for one. When Butler is arrested (at a time and place he chose) he got naked. There is no sex in this movie, so there was no need for me to see Butler butt, but a decision was made: the arrest must be pantsless. You'd think that this would be remarked on by somebody, either the arresting SWAT team (yes, he was waiting at his front door, naked, for the SWAT team), the judge, the lawyers or somebody. Apparently, I live a sheltered life.
The acting wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. Butler was his normal self, which makes accepting him as a genius a little difficult, but not impossible. Foxx plays a lawyer that isn't nice, but he is competent here. The supporting actors are fine, I guess. Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill, and Leslie Bibb have all had better roles in their careers, but their work here is nothing to be ashamed of. This doesn't do much to recommend the directorial talents of F. Gary Gray, but like his other films (The Italian Job, Friday), this films ends up resting on the charisma of its stars.
The biggest problem for me was the characters. The problem is that the two major characters are unsympathetic. Butler's character is driven by revenge. He doesn't want to only kill those responsible for the death of his family, but those that failed to see his view of justice fulfilled. Okay, that's not too bad. He's a sympathetic villain (at least, as long as his victims were convicted criminals), making a political point, but he's still a villain. Jamie Foxx is an ADA with his eyes set on a fabulous career; he made a questionable call when he accepted the killer's plea bargain, but he did it because he did not want to hurt his conviction record. When Butler starts killing everyone, Foxx does not get any more sympathetic; he is largely an absentee dad and is generally a cocky SOB. You want to side with Foxx, but he's stubborn and stupid throughout the film. So, you might think that the viewer is supposed to side with Butler. The obvious target for Butler, once he murders the killer and the accomplice, is Foxx; after all, he made the deal and told Butler to his face that it was going to happen, regardless of Butler's feelings. But no, Butler car bombs half a dozen people in the District Attorney's office that had nothing to do with his case. He killed his targets' chauffeurs and protection details. That, by any definition, goes beyond the notion of justice and makes Butler at least as bad as the men that killed his family. Foxx is not as morally reprehensible as Butler, but he does not learn a lesson or admit guilt, so his character is still a cocky SOB.
If this film was taking a stance on vigilante justice, I might be able to understand the shades of gray with the main characters. It doesn't, though; any point it might be trying to make is nullified by the ending. Foxx never apologizes for letting a criminal off easy and Butler never admits that killing lawyers and judges is sometimes bad. The ending actually makes such complaints moot, since Foxx's actions are about as far from the right choice as I can imagine. With neither character having a developmental arc to their character's feelings on the issue in question, there's no drama. No drama, a lack of creativity and sub-par action make this a bad movie.