Law Abiding Citizen is a disgusting film. It wallows in grief and torture and uses those themes as mere props in a weak-ass “thrill ride”. The most surprising moral taught by Law Abiding Citizen is not the weakness of our justice system but that we need to be spending more time with our families. Let me be clear: more than just being disgusting, Law Abiding Citizen is just a flat out terrible movie.
Jamie Foxx is an actor who surprises me by being able to convincingly play sympathetic characters while portraying a public persona of a huge jagoff. In LAC Foxx plays Nick, a lawyer for the District Attorney of Philadelphia and a huge jagoff. Surprisingly, Jamie Foxx isn’t very good in this film precisely for this reason. You see, Jamie Foxx doesn’t think of himself as a jerk. I mean, of course. This lack of self-awareness leaves Foxx unsure of how to portray this heartless asshole character. He plays his early scenes like he is the flyest D.A. in town and spends the rest of the movie pouting that no one will do what he says. This is the difference between Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. Downey can play an asshole like Tony Stark and make you feel compassion and empathy for an egomaniac alcoholic because RDJ in real life is a recovering addict who is grateful for his renewed success and is well aware of the slippery, untenable nature of fame, celebrity and sobriety. Jamie Foxx thinks he is a gift to us all and plays most characters that way. Nick as written might have displayed a level of regret and soul-searching as he considered the consequences his decisions have had on the people around him. Foxx chooses to play him without a hint of remorse, sticking with bad decisions even after his boss is blown up with a missile launcher.
The setup for the entire film is flimsy. A couple of thugs break into Gerard Butler’s house, beat and bind Butler and his wife, stab Butler and his wife, rape and kill the wife, then kill Butler’s daughter(offscreen). According to Nick, they could lose the case against these guys since after seeing his wife stabbed and raped, Butler passed out. So instead they’re doing a plea deal of some sort where one guy goes to death row while the other gets a couple of years. It isn’t clearly explained. I related with Butler’s character as Nick explains, “we could win, but we could also lose”. Butler says “Ok, I can handle those odds” and Nick says “Sorry, not up to you, deed’s been done”. Butler has the correct reaction of waiting ten years to kill EVERYONE. So, setting our entire film in motion is the premise that Jamie Foxx’s lawyer character doesn’t want to do his job because it is hard and the audience surrogate(up to this point) says, “That’s bullshit!” This setup bugged me for about half of the movie and then when I’d decided to let it go and roll with it Nick’s assistant played by Leslie Bibb asks him, “Do you regret the decision you made that has led to the deaths of so many innocents?” and Jamie Foxx is all silent and serious-face, yet clearly unconvinced of his wrongness. You were lazy, dude. Own it. Even the finale where Jamie Foxx uses a bomb to blow up Gerard Butler and then walk away from the explosion without looking at it, Foxx’s expression is still one of “Dude made me do it.”
I’m over torture porn. Martyrs broke me and Audition broke me again while also healing me, most other films of the type come across as gutless. Law Abiding Citizen incorporates some torture porn aspects into it’s basic thriller design and they suck. Director F. Gary Gray doesn’t have the courage of his convictions so the only person who actually gets to see Gerard Butler take a bone saw to a dude is Nick’s daughter who should stop opening other people’s mail*. We do get an after the fact shot of dismembered body parts on a table but who hasn’t seen that before? Tropic Thunder had better gore. But worst of all, since Law Abiding Citizen is such a cruel and empty film, I couldn’t even enjoy the action and violence if I had wanted to. When Butler interrupts a conversation with a cell mate to savagely stab him in the throat it occurred to me that up to that point the two characters were having a moment, relating to each other through their shared experience of incarceration and enjoying each other’s company as they shared a meal. It was fucked up and sad. I do not believe that to be the filmmaker’s intent.
So what were the filmmaker’s goals? The film is a failure as a commentary on our justice system since justice wasn’t perverted so much as not even attempted because Nick is lazy. It fails as a thriller since the only forward momentum is whether Gerard Butler is going to kill someone (he does! Spoiler alert!). And worst of all it isn’t even fucking entertaining. Everyone is miserable either because their families are dead or they themselves are worried that they and their families will be killed. It doesn’t even work as camp (though the tank gattling gun in the graveyard scene comes closest). What we’re left with is pretty worthless.