Law Abiding Citizen (2009, USA)

Law Abiding Citizen - Gerard Butler as Clyde Shelton

Revenge is a dish best served cold, it is said. Or in this case, a banquet.

Jamie Foxx plays Nick Rice, an ambitious prosecutor who boasts a near-perfect conviction record, and he aims to keep it that way. He does a deal with an extremely unpleasant man, Darby, who is accused of the murders of a woman and her young daughter following a home invasion; Darby gets a light sentence in return for pleading guilty and testifying against his hapless co-accused, Ames, who played virtually no role in the actual killings. Rice does the deal rather than run the risk of either man being acquitted, but it looks like a decision designed to preserve his prosecutorial record. It’s a decision which doesn’t exactly thrill the surviving husband and father of the two victims, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler), whom Darby had also stabbed and left for dead.

Shelton, it turns out, is an uncommon man; a nondescript ‘law abiding citizen’ with a special talent for strategy and invention, whose peculiar skills are much in demand in Black Ops projects. He is very patient. He waits ten years before exacting revenge – firstly on those who destroyed his family, and then, successively, all those who failed to deliver justice to him.

His opening move is to switch the drugs through which Ames’s execution by lethal injection is delivered, ensuring that the man dies a horrible, excruciating death. Then, in a meticulously-planned operation, he lures Darby to a slow death, taking particular care to make sure that he is alive to every sensation as he is systematically dismembered. We begin to appreciate that Shelton is no ordinary law abiding citizen.

Despite being taken into custody, Shelton continues to wreak havoc on those connected with the case. He now does deals with Rice, for whom he reserves his greatest loathing, in order to allow Rice to obtain a confession here, or to try to save the life of Darby’s attorney there. But people keep getting killed, even while Shelton is detained in solitary – the result of him senselessly killing his cellmate. Rice and the DA’s office know that Shelton is somehow behind the killings – which include the DA himself and Rice’s beautiful protégé, Sarah Bibb (Leslie Lowell) – but presume he has an accomplice on the outside. With half of his work colleagues suddenly pushing up daisies, Rice begins to get a wee bit toey about his own safety and that of his wife and daughter.

From the outset we have identified with Shelton, who has been badly let down by the justice system, but we start to have misgivings around the time he starts torturing and butchering the bad guy, Darby, and then pursues people more and more peripherally connected to the case, just to teach Rice a lesson. We finish up wanting him caught. But we are also intrigued as to how he is able to engineer all the deaths.

All is explained when an extraordinary tunnel is discovered from a mechanic’s shop near the prison, leading into the cells in solitary. Shelton has been breaking out, and back into, his prison cell. There might as well be a subway system down there also, his tunnel is so roomy. He is a master strategist, but how easily his whole plan could have fallen on its face had the prison authorities determined to place him at another jail. Unless, of course, he had already built series of tunnels into a number of other prisons also, just to cover off on all contingencies.

It’s truly fantastic, in the true meaning of that word. But there are nonetheless some very good lessons for prison administrators in it all. Firstly: don’t build solitary cells on the ground floor. Alternatively: build on very sandy soil or over the top of a swamp. Routinely check the rear of your cells for tunnels big enough to house an army. Don’t house really, really clever prisoners in prisons where they want or expect to be. And before doing deals with dangerous psychopathic criminals, make sure that their victims aren’t even greater psychopaths.

Law Abiding Citizen #2 - Jamie Foxx as Nick Rice Law Abiding Citizen #3 - Leslie Bibb as Sarah Lowell

Posted on October 17th, 2013 at 9:33 pm. Updated on October 17th, 2013 at 9:33 pm.

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