Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is an upstanding family man whose wife and daughter are brutally murdered during a home invasion. When the killers are caught, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), a hotshot Philadelphia prosecutor, is assigned to the case. Nick offers one of the suspects a light sentence in exchange for testifying against his accomplice.
Fast forward ten years. The man who got away with murder is found dead and Clyde Shelton coolly admits his guilt. Then he issues a warning to Nick: Either fix the flawed justice system that failed his family, or key players in the trial will die.
Soon Shelton follows through on his threats, orchestrating from his jail cell a string of spectacularly diabolical assassinations that can be neither predicted nor prevented. Philadelphia is gripped with fear as Shelton's high-profile targets are slain one after another and the authorities are powerless to halt his reign of terror. Only Nick can stop the killing, and to do so he must outwit this brilliant sociopath in a harrowing contest of wills in which even the smallest misstep means death. With his own family now in Shelton's crosshairs, Nick finds himself in a desperate race against time facing a deadly adversary who seems always to be one step ahead.
Infusing social commentary with an action thriller storyline, F. Gary Gray ('Friday,' 'The Negotiator') keeps 'Law Abiding Citizen' grounded, despite having one of the most outlandish and eccentric plots since Gerard Butler's last feature, 'Gamer.' The talented director maintains interest and decent entertainment value with some creative visual flare, even as viewers question the credibility of the narrative... and its characters... and the plausibility of some of its more exaggerated action sequences. The introduction of smarts in a pic that really should remain brainless can be a bit cumbersome, but at least it works in providing the main protagonist with a sympathetic motive.
Butler stars in the role of the good law abiding citizen Clyde Shelton, an engineer forced to witness the brutal deaths of his wife and daughter. When the two men responsible for the heinous crime are presumably brought to justice, the young deputy D.A., Nick Rice (Jaime Foxx), shows more concern for his 96 percent conviction rate than for bringing comfort to the distraught husband and father. Fearful that sloppy forensic evidence will set both murderers free, Rice makes a deal with the criminal responsible for the massacre by reducing his sentence while the other receives capital punishment. This doesn't sit too well with Shelton, and he waits ten years before finally serving his own personal form of justice to everyone.
Essentially a vigilante/revenge flick, the movie offers some good tension and delivers some explosive action. The filmmakers give 'Law Abiding Citizen' a dark and brooding appeal which suits the subject matter. And like the films it subconsciously imitates, such as 'Death Wish' and 'Sudden Impact', the audience not only identifies with Shelton, the surviving mourner, but also cheers and almost applauds his severe tactics, in spite of how gruesome and violent they may be. Gray shows a strong and capable eye in these instances, instilling the thriller with disapproving observation on the current state of our justice system. Especially worth noting early in the film is the juxtaposition of a joyful school recital and the strange spectacle surrounding the death penalty.
Where we run into trouble is the heavy-handedness of the narrative's condemnation of modern law and the ease by which Shelton can unfold his master plan. The word justice is used just as often as the F-word, and by the end, it's not exactly clear how the scales are finally balanced. And similar to the scene mentioned above, Butler and Foxx are given ample time to talk in a superficial level (always opposite each other on screen) on matters of law while enclosed in a large, emotionless panoptical room. Meanwhile, Butler's Shelton just so happens to be a very skilled mercenary with enough resources to pull off one of the most contrived and intricate revenge schemes ever filmed. By the way, he also seems to display some impressive psychic (or psychotic, whichever works best in a given scene) abilities, always knowing where government officials will be at the precise moments he needs them to scare the citizens of Philadelphia into hysteria.
If not for Gray's direction, the film's plot would completely fall apart. While Foxx continues delivering stable performances with 'The Soloist' remaining the best thing he's done since 'Ray,' Butler, arguably-speaking, does some of his best work and actually outshines the Oscar-winning actor. From Dracula to treasure hunter and from 'The Phantom of the Opera' to king of the Spartans, the gifted Scotsman has been seen in a large variety of roles, but here, we see him at his most human and vulnerable. Too bad it also feels somewhat wasted in a thriller that could easily be forgotten by next year, one which relies so heavily on a convoluted and preposterous twist ending. Sure, 'Law Abiding Citizen' is entertaining, but the perfectly calculated and by-the-numbers plot also makes it unremarkable and unmemorable.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay Entertainment brings 'Law Abiding Citizen' in an Unrated Director's Cut of F. Gary Gray's action thriller, which is made exclusive only to Blu-ray owners. The movie is housed in a two-disc keepcase and both are BD50 Region A Locked. The first disc has the 118-minute version with all the same bonus material found on the day-and-date DVD release while the second BD contains the original 109-min theatrical cut with an audio commentary. After a series of skippable previews for 'The Crazies,' 'The Men Who Stare at Goats,' 'Capitalism: A Love Story,' and 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand,' viewers are taken to a standard menu option.
'Law Abiding Citizen' makes its debut appearance with a highly-detailed, film-like presentation. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (2.40:1) transfer may not serve up the sort of eye-popping picture quality we'd expect from the format, but it displays the movie just as the filmmakers intended.
The palette is noticeably drained of color to complement the subject matter, but primaries are rendered accurately. Fine object details are precise and resolute, with facial complexions appearing wonderfully well-textured and lifelike. Black levels are mostly rich and inky with clean gradations, providing the image with some good depth. Contrast can appear slightly hot but is mostly spot-on to reflect the winter climate of Philly and keeps to the intentional photography. It doesn't do anything to diminish the presentation as the encode retains great visibility in the distance. The only problem, and very likely excusable as a result of the deliberate look, is that the darker portions of the film looking awfully murky, and a couple of scenes even crush some of the background info. In the end, however, F. Gary Gray's action thriller looks excellent on Blu-ray.
The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack also makes a strong impression with much to enjoy. Although rear speakers doesn't maintain a consistent soundfield from beginning to end, the sound design still shows plenty of activity that is enjoyably satisfying and realistically immersive. Atmospherics and directionality are discrete and distinct with movement between the channels feeling convincing and enveloping. From the sound of helicopters flying overhead to voices echoing inside a room, the lossless mix offers a terrific room-penetrating presence while imaging creates an expansive and very engaging soundstage. The mid-range is very clean and sharp for some of those more explosive moments in the soundtrack, and dialogue reproduction is pitch-perfect and well-prioritized amidst the action. Low-frequency effects are powerfully effective and precise, making this audio track a great complement to the video.
Anchor Bay brings the Foxx-Butler starrer to Blu-ray with an average collection of bonus material which can also be found on its DVD counterpart but spans two discs here.Disc One:
'Law Abiding Citizen,' the latest film from talented director F. Gary Gray, stars Jaime Foxx and Gerard Butler. The action thriller has its moments of entertainment, but its unbelievably implausible plot ultimately makes it unremarkable. The Blu-ray disc debuts with an excellent Audio/Video presentation and an average assortment of supplemental material. BD owners and fans of the movie will love the fact that they are privileged to have two versions of Gray's film, making this package the one to buy. Everyone else will want to give it a rent first.