Pros: Taut Action, tangled intrigue, solid cast, and Gerard Butler's Butt.
Cons: Raises sticky moral quandries and leaves you to figure your own way out.
Law Abiding Citizen (2009) Directed by F. Gary Gray
Nick Rice: You end this!
Clyde Shelton: [smiles] I'm just gettin' warmed up.
Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is a family man, at home with his wife and daughter, when a home invasion goes horribly badly. Clarence Darby (Christian Stolte) and Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart) end up killing the wife (Brook Mills) and child (Ksenia Hulayev), and even though Darby was the one who stabbed both Clyde and his wife slowly to savor the sensation, he is the one willing to roll over, so he is the one who will get the deal. As he put it, while stabbing Clyde, you can't fight fate.
Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) is the Assistant DA. He is the man who brokered the deal. To his way of thinking with the DNA evidence excluded on a technicality, there is a good chance one or the other of them could walk. So he will go for the death penalty on Ames, Murder 3 on Darby, and maybe he will serve five years. But his 96% conviction rate will be intact.
It doesn't make Rice proud, but this is the way the system works, and he would rather have some justice than none.
Somehow, Mr. Shelton does not feel quite the same.
Ten years later, he begins to express his disdain.
Though he had a lesser role in the invasion, Rupert Ames if finally set to be executed. In an interesting subplot, the ever dedicated Rice has to choose between Ames' execution, and his daughter's cello recital. Guess which he chooses?
So, there he is sitting with his assistant, Sarah Lowell (Leslie Bibb) when the lethal injection is performed. However, not everything goes as planned, and his death is horrifying. Think "The Green Mile" of lethal injections.
On the container of Potassium Chloride are the words "Can't escape fate."
Clarence Darby is the first person they want to check with but when they finally find him, well, someone else found him first. (Jigsaw is an amateur).
And of course Clyde Shelton is the prime suspect. But as Rice pointed out, it is not what you know; it's what you can prove in court. But even in jail, Shelton's power to strike at will seems unimpeded. One by one, people connected to the case are dieing...and they already have the man responsible in prison. Now, can they prove it?
Rice is coupled with Detective Dunnigan (Colm Meaney) trying to out think a tactical genius. The total powers of officialdom are at their back, in the persons of Mayor (Viola Davis...great performance),Police, Cantrell (Bruce McGill) the judiciary, represented by Judge Laura Burch (Annie Corley) and the penal system, Warden Iger (Gregory Itzen) in a flawless performance of a man genetically incapable of getting it. Sadly, these are the people Shelton is targeting.
This is an excellent story of vengeance and justice. Two juggernauts of will are pitted on opposite sides of an issue. Which is the hero is rather a matter of perspective. I certainly don't condone vigilantism. By the same token, there are few lengths I would not traverse to avenge the people I love. Rice represents the system, broken, flawed, but still, the law. Shelton represents justice. Of course, he is taking the law in his own hands. The conflict between these two men and their two ideologies is the heart and soul of this movie.
And it is cool; it is filled with those moments that make you wince, then go "Ugh! Neat!" Shelton not only has a gift for mayhem, he has a sense of the dramatic, with a touch of irony. I think that dichotomy of emotion is part and parcel of what they were shooting for.
The suspense and intrigue are just about perfect. The plot unfolds piece by piece, coming faster and faster. And the twists and turns will take you by surprise. Like a serial killer in reverse, they catch the guy, then he starts killing people. It's taut, intelligent, and raises sticky moral issues to chew over in your leisure.