Law Abiding Citizen is the latest in the bad-lawyer genre, with Jamie Foxx as careerfocused attorney Nick Rice, who accepts a plea bargain from the killer of affable inventor Clyde Shelton’s (Gerard Butler) family to ensure his excellent trial outcome record.
The film opens with Shelton and his daughter working together in the basement, while his wife prepares dinner.
There’s a knock on the door and when Shelton opens it, he’s whacked with a baseball bat, tied up, and then watches as the assailant picks up the daughter and (mercifully for us viewers) murders her off-camera. Later, we learn that the wife was also murdered.
Shelton is the only survivor. Rice and his team accept a plea bargain in which the killer, Clarence Darby (Christian Stolte), has agreed to turn against his coassailant, Rupert Ames ( Josh Stewart), putting him on death row, while Darby — the real killer — is guilty of thirddegree murder and out in five.
Shelton’s not happy about this plea bargain, resulting in Rice impatiently yelling at him that “it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove in court!”
Jump forward 10 years to Kelly Rice (Regina Hall), Nick’s wife, complaining that Nick has yet to attend one of his daughter’s cello recitals. Instead of keeping it in the family, he attends Ames’ execution, and the following scene is a tedious and formulaic two-shot, alternating between the execution and her cello performance.
Turns out that the execution was botched, and it seems to be the work of
Darby, the original killer. Seconds before he’d have been arrested, however, Darby is warned on the phone. At gunpoint he hijacks a police car, but ends up in the clutches of a vengeful but disconnected Shelton, who drugs, kidnaps and tortures him in a very unpleasant scene that goes on far too long.
The story is clear at this point: how far can revenge go before the victims of the crime becomes criminals themselves?
Shelton is arrested for Darby’s brutal murder, and Shelton’s campaign to harass Rice and everyone else involved in the original murder trial begins, all having been carefully planned in advance. But Shelton’s in jail, how can he be orchestrating a terror campaign?
A few shocking scenes transpire, and Rice demands: “What principle was at work when you murdered and tortured those people?” Shelton replies: “That everyone should be held accountable for their actions.”
About halfway through, the film takes a typical Hollywood left turn and we find out that Clyde Shelton isn’t a slightly goofy, clueless inventor, but, well, I won’t spoil it. I so wished that someone more like Hitchcock had directed Law Abiding Citizen instead.
Ultimately, I think there was a really interesting film buried within Law Abiding Citizen, but it only sporadically shone through the otherwise poor, uninteresting performances and a narrative storyline rife with logical glitches that kept puzzling me instead of engaging me.
And that’s too bad.