Crimes against film ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Crimes against film

Law Abiding Citizen
My rating:

Goddamn if this wasn't the most annoying movie-going experience I've had in a long time, for no less than four reasons. The first is that I came in late and missed out on a pivotal opening scene. The second is that the censors have been even more arbitrary than usual, snipping out only about every other utterance of the F-word. WTF? This being a preview screening, was the version I saw a work-in-progress cut from Finas? The third is the incredibly dumbass trailer that actually spoiled a couple of key scenes. WTF, Overture Films?

The last is that this makes five two-and-a-half-star films in a row. Movie Gods, why hast thou forsaken me?

Engineer Clyde Shelton's (Gerard Butler) wife and daughter are raped and murdered before his eyes. But instead of pursuing justice, Assistant D.A. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) cuts a deal to convict one of the culprits and give the other - the one who actually committed the murders - a reduced sentence. Ten years later, Shelton puts into action an elaborate plan that involves murdering everyone involved in the trial - a plan that he's able to carry out even after he's been arrested and put behind bars - a plan whose goal isn't just revenge, but to take down the entire justice system.

Yes, I missed out on the scene of Shelton's family's rape and murder, which I'm sure muted a great deal of the film's impact. My bad entirely. Most films begin around 15 minutes into the scheduled screening time, after ads and trailers, but I guess that doesn't apply for Nuffnang Premiere Screenings. But although I'll take my slap on the wrist, whoever cut the trailer deserves jail time. At least two of Shelton's murders are meant to be shocking, but anyone who's seen the trailer will see them coming. So much for thrills, which is a pretty damn crucial element to this film, seeing as it's a thriller. Gaaahh.

So what else can I say about it? Well, it's also a terribly wishy-washy movie. There was a trend that began in the mid-90s of making action thrillers with villains that had sympathetic motives - The Rock, Air Force One and The Peacemaker come to mind. The idea was to give more realism and depth to the usual good-guys-vs.-bad-guys formula. All well and fine, but it needs to be handled well. A major part of the action and thriller genres' appeal is the visceral thrill of watching a hissable villain get what's coming to him. Make him too sympathetic, and you get an oddly unsatisfying genre film.

That's what happened here with Law Abiding Citizen. Clyde Shelton is a man grievously wronged, and his arguments about how corrupt and broken the American justice system is strike a chord. (Perhaps not as much as if we were Americans, but hey, we've all watched Hollywood TV shows about lawyers.) He's also a vicious terrorist mastermind who murders innocent people, people who had nothing to do his family's murder trial. In fact, he murders one or two characters whom we get to know and like. So do we root for him or against him? The movie can't seem to make up its mind, and thus doesn't give us much opportunity to do either.

"But wait," you cry. "Why do we need to root for someone and against someone else? Why can't a movie take an even-handed approach that weighs both sides equally?" Well, my response would be: who are you and how did you take over my blog post? Um, I mean, sure a movie can do that, but then it'd have to be much smarter and more nuanced. It would have to spend more time on scenes that explore the legal and moral issues. It would be more of the slow-burning suspense kind of thriller. Instead, most of it is Rice racing against time, aided by a cute assistant (Leslie Bibb) and a hardbitten cop (Colm Meaney), to stop Shelton's plot machinations, which involve a lot of bullets flying and stuff blowing up.

Butler gets to stretch himself here, in a departure from his customary heroic roles (which, by the way, makes it no easier to figure out if we should be hissing at him or cheering him on). He does drama as well as he does action hero or romantic lead, but the script's confusion over how to handle the character hobbles his performance. Foxx is fine, but all he does here is clench his jaw and grit his teeth. Bibb, Meaney, Bruce McGill (as Rice's boss and mentor) and Regina Hall (as the obligatory hero's worried wife) are decent, although Viola Davis as the mayor is somewhat over-the-top. F. Gary Gray shoots a scene or two with some flair, but he directs this with the same unremarkable competence that he gave to all the other action-thrillers on his resume.

Now, I'll concede that annoyances nos. 1, 2 and 3 may have compromised my ability to judge this movie fairly. And could it be that annoyance no. 4 is evidence that I'm getting burned out from watching too many movies? I don't think so; four out of five (not counting Papadom) of the last movies I reviewed have gotten poor critical reception elsewhere too, so I think we're just having a bad stretch. And speaking of bad stretches, I've been to three Nuffnang Premiere Screenings now, and they've all been mediocre. Guys, I totes appreciate the free tix, but can't you pick 'em better?

NEXT REVIEW: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Anticipation level: Movie Gods, I beseech thee!


Poklah Sc said...

I watched this, and it doesn't give me any kind of gratification at all. The movie build up its base nicely, only to trash it down completely further down the road.

Anybody still interested to buy the dvd or spending time downloading it, just stop, then go read the full storyline at wikipedia.
Then decide if you still wants to watch the movie..