Law Abiding Citizen

Jamie Foxx's Nick mostly repeats the part played by Denzel Washington in Ricochet, the superior first incarnation of Law Abiding Citizen.

Law Abiding Citizen

Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Viola Davis, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Sarah Lowell, Regina Hall
Rated: R
Studio: Overture Films
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-10-16 (General release)
UK date: 2009-11-27 (General release)

Do you wanna know who's really got the power? Bring your ass to the tower.

--Odessa (Ice-T), Ricochet (1991)

On hearing that a psycho killer is committing serial murders from inside his prison cell, Mayor April Henry of Philadelphia (cooler than cool Viola Davis) is annoyed. "You boys," she seethes at the men she holds responsible, "have fucked this up. The press will kill us."

Law Abiding Citizen is prone to this sort of comedy, not exactly funny, more smug and clever-seeming. As Mayor Henry scowls at her "boys," the camera pulls out to show the DA, Jonas (Bruce McGill), and his A-Number One prosecutor Nick (Jamie Foxx) insisting on their manly man skills. "We're gonna get this guy," Nick says. "We're gonna get this situation under control." Of course they are -- but only after the killer, Clyde (Gerard Butler), does more damage, personal and spectacular, to Nick, his primary target and opponent.

The ostensible reason for Clyde's rage is set up at film's start, when his suburban serenity is suddenly wrecked by two home-invading mouth-breathers. Trussed up and pounded into the foyer floor, Clyde watches helplessly as the ugliest loudest villain rapes and kills his wife, then drags his precious little daughter off screen for a similar fate. Clyde groans and whimpers and resists, mostly feebly. A fade-out on his last look at the dreadful scene leads to the revelation that Clyde survives this ordeal, and worse, must contend with the legal dealing done in his name by Nick. Explaining the "deal," Nick asserts, oh-so-cynically, "Some justice is better than no justice at all."

Nick steps in at this point essentially to revisit the part played by Denzel Washington in Ricochet, the superior first incarnation of Law Abiding Citizen. There, the vengeful widower is John Lithgow: "You killed my life!" he bellows at Washington's ambitious and selfish prosecutor, demonstrating a flair for colorful phrasing far beyond Clyde, who takes himself much more seriously. Like Washington's character, also named Nick, Foxx's Nick is in need of life lessons (and honestly, a gangsta best friend played by Ice-T, sadly missing from the new film). Nick neglects his young, cello-playing daughter (Emerald-Angel Young) or his infinitely patient wife (Regina Hall). Warned repeatedly to rearrange his priorities, he's only convinced when Clyde delivers his own most banal message: family is the most important thing.

To be fair, Clyde does his best to make this message un-banal (and director F. Gary Gray is no slouch when it comes to action movie business, big orange explosions and smart mobile framing). When Nick explains, "This is the way the justice system works," Clyde turns his puffy, red-eyed face to the camera and glowers. Nick misses this bit of instruction in consequences, and so Clyde doubles down. He will make his vengeance scheme "biblical."

It helps Clyde's instructional inclination that he is a master killer himself. As Nick's research reveals (see: the film's plot-divulging trailer), Clyde has been trained, by the U.S. government, in the fine art of assassination. He's not just a spy, declares the nervous knit-capped informant, "Clyde is a brain and he was the best. If he wants you dead, you're dead." (This background detail leaves open the question of how Clyde was so easily overcome by the patently dim-witted home-invaders, but, oh well.)

Once Clyde makes it clear that he is, in fact, directing his rage against "the system," Nick and company (including a dedicated assistant played by Leslie Bibb) do their mostly feeble best to decipher his plan and means, always a step behind... until the movie must end, they're not. Before that point, Clyde's brutality is frankly horrific, his fury a mix of Scorpio and Dirty Harry's, his methods of torture and technical gimmickry on a par with Jigsaw's, his repeated displays of arrogance and intellect too like Hannibal Lecter's.

By comparison, the "boys" are decidedly slow on the uptake, wasting most of their on-screen time reasserting their own impotent anger after each burst of Clyde's violence. Mayor Henry alternately chides them and seeks solutions premised on her own plainly ineffective municipal apparatus ("We're gonna lock this city down! Put an armed cop on every corner!"). During her sessions with Nick and Jonas, brief and generic, the mayor must articulate the limits of such scripting (for this, you might blame the writer whose name is on it, Kurt Wimmer). "There must be a provision of the Homeland Security Act that we can activate," she proclaims, and not one person in the room looks at her like she's crazy. It could be that her desperation is yet another instance of Law Abiding Citizen's perverse sense of humor, a weak joke about the ways that bad legislation is put to bad use in bad situations, maybe even underlining the irony of the film's title. Or maybe, this preposterousness is just what happens in bad movies.






PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.