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Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

The System Must Pay

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 109 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18

One night Clyde Shelton’s (Butler) house is broken into and his wife and children are murdered. Two men are arrested but one cuts a deal with smug, morally confused Attorney Nick Rice (Foxx) and goes away for only a few years. Shelton is understandably a little bit peeved but whereas most people would take to the bottle or see a counsellor, he goes around systematically killing anyone connected to the justice system that let him down, including Rice and the nasty Mayor (Davis). Inconveniently for the city of Philadelphia, it turns out that Shelton is some sort of inventor of deadly covert weapons for the secret services and can make them pay in a number of originally gory ways from his prison cell.

Some may try and bill this as a social critique on the disparities of the justice system but it never really tries too much to be one, instead it’s a smart cat and mouse thriller, with clever and relevant action and just enough to think about. The roles of good guys and bad guys are sufficiently blurred which gives you the chance to make up your own mind for a change. Should we support the generally decent lawyer with dubious principles or the psychotically unhinged guy who’s sticking it to a corrupt system after losing his family? It’s a bit like deciding which morally bankrupt, sleazeball politician you want to vote for on election day.

I’m not going to analyse Law Abiding Citizen like it’s a piece of scripture as, for a start, the film is more interesting and makes far more sense. Sure, character development is non-existent with one-dimensional characters spurting hammy dialogue – Colm Meaney’s wise-cracking cop for one – and the ending is a bit of a let down but, in spite of his ridiculous name, F. Gary Gray delivers in terms of genuine shocks, suspense and unpredictability. It follows a formula seen many a time before where big budget Hollywood actioners seem better than they actually should be and it can either fail – Bad Boys II and Stealth – or succeed – Con Air and Face-Off. Just leave your sense of disbelief at the cinema door, close off your brain and go along for a pretty decent ride.

It's Got: Suspense, clever action and unpredictability

It Needs: A better ending


This no-brainer from Hollywood delivers just the right amount of genuine shocks, suspense and unpredictability to make it into guilty pleasure territory.