Law Abiding Citizen Review

“From the Director of Friday” may not be the best tagline to sell an action thriller but after rising to prominence with the Ice Cube comedy: Friday, F. Gary Gray has been working on creating a niche for himself as a director of action films about men who are forced to go outside of the system to find justice. His latest: Law Abiding Citizen stars Gerard Butler as the man acting outside the law: Clyde Shelton, an ingenious engineer whose family is cold-bloodedly murdered in a home invasion by sociopath Clarence Derby and reluctant accomplice Rupert Ames.

Enter Jamie Foxx as hotshot prosecutor Nick Rice, who is perhaps a little too good at playing the system. Knowing that he would be relying on Shelton’s eye witness testimony to convict both killers, Rice takes a plea from Derby to convict Ames for murder-one and get the death penalty in exchange for a murder-three conviction on Derby. Clyde is not impressed by the deal considering Derby was the actual killer and 10 years later he arrives back on the scene to exact gruesome retribution against both Derby and Ames. But he doesn’t stop there, soon it becomes clear that he’s targeting every person involved in the judicial process that failed him, and Nick has a front row seat to the whole bloody affair unless he can outwit a genius who has nothing left to lose.

Watching Law Abiding Citizen is the cinematic equivalent of following a home-team football player make the run of his life, dribbling deftly past every opposing player and sidestepping the keeper until just an empty gaping net is ahead of him, then raise his leg back in a triumphant arc and swiftly swing it down... only to miss the ball completely and land flat on his arse! We’re given a cynical set up and an extremely sympathetic, nihilistic anti-villain in Clyde Shelton. There’s a lot of intrigue and fun to be had in watching the wronged man throw the spanner in the works on a grand scale, and at first F. Gary Gray does a good job of finding the right mix of unflinching violence and clever chicanery to play out in Shelton’s hands, while Nick Rice also proves to be slightly less sympathetic hero in that he’s unsure enough whether he made the right choice 10 years ago and is ultimately a good guy who tries to put away the bad guys.

It’s a dynamic that promises a thriller that could leave a nasty taste in the mouth, with real human emotion and an intelligent story to develop, but it reaches a moment when the filmmakers lose sight of this, and that’s when Shelton tells rice: “This is not about vengeance” – that’s when the football player goes flying on his arse because vengeance is exactly what this story should be about! Indomitable, unfathomable anguish is what makes Shelton interesting as a lead and we want to see the overly proficient prosecutor squirm under the pressure of this biblical wrath and be forced to make real life and death decisions that will affect him on a deep and personal level. Instead Shelton’s plans develop into a rather trite political assault and Law Abiding Citizen switches from a potentially great character driven piece to a slick but ultimately routine Hollywood action thriller. Less Se7en and more The Bone Collector.

The Disc: This Blu-ray release features the longer director's cut version of the film (the DVD release features the theatrical cut). Having not seen the theatrical cut I cannot comment on the additions/changes here other than noting this version runs 10-minutes longer.

The filmmakers were going for a neo-noirish look with Law Abiding Citizen and that means a gritty, stark look that’s heavy on the shadows with small glimpses of highlights filtering through and a pretty earthy, muted palette, so this is a transfer that viewers will bring their prejudices to but I can’t see how it could get much closer to how the digital intermediate probably looks. Yes shadow detail is low in places, but they’re low in a good way because I’m pretty sure that’s the intent of the filmmakers. It feels like blacks are supposed to look a little clipped and that’s what we have on this disc, otherwise contrast and brightness levels are nice and natural.

The image is also grainy, but again in a good Super-35 way with a rich sharp texture; and detail is very solid even if it’s not spectacularly sharp, with wide shots in particular maintaining an impressive amount of clarity. Colours are distinctly muted and naturalistic, but this is not a film meant to look like a comic book brought to life so this seems accurate as well; as a result skin tones can sometimes look flat. You really have to go sniffing for niggles in order to find anything wrong with this transfer, there is some subtle Edge Enhancements present in a few shots and there’s some very minor banding to be found in other shots, but that’s your lot.

Audio is up to the standards of the transfer and like the cinematography the sound design in Law Abiding Citizen is very much underplayed, going to for ambience and delicacy over big gung ho effects. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track sounds elegant and smooth when needed and bites down hard for the action set pieces, with sharp resounding bass and excellent dynamics. Dialogue is always clear, audible, and rich; and the sound field is nicely separated.

It’s a good job that the presentation is first rate as the Extra Features are pretty pitiful. First up is a six minute featurette examining the legal themes of the film with input from real legal experts on how the Shelton murder case would be tried in real life. Next is a fifteen minute Making-Of that is rather pretentiously filmed in Black and White but is pretty generic stuff, and only a smidgen more interesting is a featurette that looks at how the visual effects were tested and developed for five scenes in the film. The theatrical trailer (shown in 1080i) and some weird, awful quality “Mash Up” trailer rounds off the extras.

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