There are bad movies and then there are bad movies. Some movies are merely not entertaining and some movies are morally reprehensible. Law Abiding Citizen manages to pull off both kinds of bad so well that it will undoubtedly become a classic of its kind. Films often reflect social trends and political shifts. Michael Douglas, for example, has built his career on roles that chart the post-1960s crisis points of the white American male. The men he played in the films Basic Instinct, Falling Down, Disclosure, Fatal Attraction, War Of The Roses and The Game are victims of women's liberation, affirmative action and liberalism. Between this film, 300 and the Gamer, Gerard Butler looks set to take his mantle.
In this Law Abiding Citizen Butler plays our hero, Clyde, a man who watched his wife and daughter get killed by intruders. At the trial, one of the men is given the death penalty, the other a prison sentence which allows him to be released within a few years. Clyde holds prosecutor Nick, played by Jamie Foxx, the female judge and what he sees as a corrupt justice system responsible for this travesty. Ten years later Clyde is unhappy that a murderer is walking free and decides to act on his anger by changing the contents of the lethal injection when the death sentence is carried out. The death penalty is still not good enough for Clyde, so to illustrate his understanding of justice, he tracks down the freed man and proceeds to hack him into pieces with a chainsaw.
This film assumes its audience supports Clyde and his vigilantism, which include a series of other cruel killings for those he holds responsible. Rather than seeing Clyde as troubled, mentally unhinged and in need of psychiatric help, we are supposed to see him as a principled crusader in a world gone terribly wrong. He is a warrior just like Michael Douglas' character in Falling Down. If we support Clyde in his brutal attempts to reveal the weaknesses of the justice system then we support vigilantism and his Old Testament brand of justice. Not only that, we also condone the murder of entirely innocent people involved in the justice system - and anyone else involved in the society upholding this system. Hopefully, Clyde will lose the sympathy of most by the time the chainsaw moment rolls around, although this wasn't apparent at the screening I attended, which was filled with roars of creepy laughter.
This is the kind of film that will make you keep checking over your shoulder when walking home from the theater, sure that everyone is out to get you. However appalled, you might be at its logic. It's impossible not to feel anxious, which shows just how powerful films can be and how truly scary it is when a movie promotes such reprehensible morals. This film assumes you agree with the death penalty, and works downward from there.
"It's gonna be biblical. I'm gonna bring the whole diseased temple down on your heads," threatens Clyde. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, right? Law Abiding Citizen is so determined, so entrenched in its messed-up moralism that it's probably immune to criticism. Anyone who doesn't like this film, like anyone who disagrees with Clyde's justification, is a bleeding-heart weakling who in willing to support the proposal that a person is innocent until proven guilty, shows faulty judgment.
Law Abiding Citizen ✩✩✩✩✩
Directed by F Gary Gray, Written by Kurt Wimmer. Starring: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Colm Meaney. Rated R