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One terrible night Clyde Shelton’s (Gerard Butler) wife and daughter are brutally murdered while he’s left for dead. The culprits are caught, but thanks to some legal foul-ups the prosecutor, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) decides not to take the case to court in order to maintain his 96% conviction rate. The more aggressive and guilty of the two killers turns witness against his accomplice, who is sentenced to death, and pleads guilty to the lesser charge of third degree murder. Devastated by the miscarriage of justice Shelton disappears from the public eye. Ten years later Shelton begins to reap his revenge, starting by tainting the lethal injection agents to cause the lesser criminal to suffer a most painful death. While Rice and the authorities are still reeling, Shelton kidnaps and expertly tortures the real murderer to death. Shelton is then taken to maximum security prison, where his vengeance somehow continues.

Law Abiding Citizen: Unrated
When I was first introduced Law Abiding Citizen via a series of exceedingly generic teasers and trailers, I assumed we were in for yet another Punisher movie, just not in name. Either I wasn’t paying enough attention, or the ads failed to really instill the fact that the Punisher-like character was exacting just as much, if not more revenge on the justice system. While watching the film I continued to get a comic book vide, specifically one pertaining to Batman. Butler sort of resembles a Batman villain in vague ways, but my feeling was still to vague until I finally realized its source – an episode of Batman: The Animated Series  entitled ‘Lock-Up’, where an ex-prison guard traps and imprisons members of Gotham’s justice system, who he considers too soft on criminals, and thus the real problem. The episode and film are different enough in the end that I relaxed a bit after completing my realization, but the Batman parallels, along with elements obviously gathered from the Saw series (and past vigilante ‘classics’) kind of defined Law Abiding Citizen for me. For better or worse.

The production could’ve done a lot worse than hiring F. Gary Gray as the film’s director. Like many directors that come from music videos Gray has been accused of working form way over content, but in the case of this script, and because he’s got the right cast, he’s the perfect guy for this script. Gray shoots the film like a Gothic horror film, and he squeezes exceedingly massive dollops of suspense and shock from what are otherwise reasonably predictable proceedings. For most of the film Gray and his cast, which includes Butler at possibly the best I’ve ever seen him, work above the shortcomings of the script, but when the final important plot point is revealed, the one that explains the seemingly impossible assassination, things kind of fall apart. I’m not sure any explanation could’ve come across as entirely satisfying, honestly. The whole narrative hinges on a single plot point, and whether or not the audience buys into it, which is a very dangerous way to craft a script. I don’t think this ultimately crushes the whole affair, but it weakens the rest of the story, which actually ends on a relatively satisfying note otherwise. This is actually Kurt Wimmer’s best screenplay since The Thomas Crown Affair, but not enough to forgive him for Ultraviolet just yet.

Law Abiding Citizen: Unrated
Much of the long term success of the film lies on the fact that it isn’t really a morality play, or at least not a ‘message movie’. I’m sure some folks will argue aspects of justice on the way home, but mostly Law Abiding Citizen takes the Death Wish route in just presenting its facts and scenes, allowing for plenty of super right wing wish fulfillment, without much concern for political correctness, besides the fact that Butler is clearly playing a villain. Perhaps even more important is the fact that everything is played dead straight. I assume that the filmmakers and cast had no interest in being ironic or tongue in cheek about anything, and this is the only way to make such films. Gray rarely even pays any kind of homage to ‘70s vigilante flicks, and though the actors play their parts largely, they never devolve into comic book like hysterics. Some critics could argue the humourless approach (aside from Butler’s occasional sly one-liner) as negative, but I think the humourlessness is so pointed it could be considered a circular approach to comedy. I didn’t watch the film with an audience, but I imagine it was quite a theatrical experience (even if the goopiest bits were cut out for the R-rating).

Law Abiding Citizen: Unrated

Video


My Batman by way of Saw analogy certainly applies to the film’s overall look, which is gritty, grimey, dark and spooky. With a few exceptions (any scene in Foxx’s house) this 2.40:1, 1080p high definition transfer is devoted to cool colours, silver sheens, fine grain, high contrast, and above all, deep, dark blacks. Director F. Gary Gray, and cinematographer Jonathan Sela keep their Gothic look very pure. The overall tone is an almost perfect mix of blue and green, but not cartoonish. The greens are bulked up a bit outside of prison, which is almost monochromatically represented by the deep blues. Skin tones are clean, but not particularly natural, as they’re kind of a few standardized hues. Almost every scene features some kind of warm hued element that pops nicely, and none of these bleed, or feature any blocking or edge-enhancement. The fine details are very sharp, from extreme close ups to wide city shots. The consistency of the wide shots is clearly beyond standard definition abilities, but the close-ups are the most impressive element of the entire transfer. Look closely at the CG veins during the lethal injection scene – you can see them pumping. The consistency of both close-up and far off details maintains even during the super dark scenes, which feature perfect, deep blacks, and razor sharp highlights. The persistent grain thickens slightly, but never in an oppressive manner.

Law Abiding Citizen: Unrated

Audio


Law Abiding Citizen’s soundtrack is presented in the form of a solid and big Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. The sound design is at its best when it’s dealing in dynamics, and shocking the audience with sudden bursts of aural fury. The whole of the mix is quite heightened, but really revels in absolute silence for large sections, spiking the utter quietness with only dialogue and very subtle sound effects. These scenes mostly depend on the center channel, even moving some of the previously surround enabled effects to the channel, but the more aggressive scenes are plenty busy with stereo and surround embellishments. Dialogue takes the clear precedent, but due to the design of most of the sets the spoken word echoes into the rear channels on regular occasion. The prison sequences feature oodles of ambient inmate noise, the catacombs feature pinpointed prickles, and the cityscapes feature all sorts of incidental crowd and vehicular sounds. The occasional explosions and gunshots are punchy, bassy, and feature plenty of directional additions and afterthoughts. Brian Tyler’s score follows the basic modern thriller template closely, but a few poignant symphonic bits escape the mix, which is warm, and equally punchy when it needs to be.

Law Abiding Citizen: Unrated

Extras


For some reason Anchor Bay has put the theatrical, R-rated cut of Law Abiding Citizen on a separate disc, and with it the set’s only audio commentary, which features producers Lucas Foster and Alan Siegel. The track is solid, including both spirited discussions and informative behind the scenes stories. The tone is definitely in-keeping from the usual producer’s point of view, focusing more on the wider scale of production, including money, rather than a more pointed look at the artistic or narrative aspects of filmmaking. This leads to a little too much back patting, and cast and crew loving, but usually leads to a nice broad view of the process.

Back on disc one, the unrated one, the extras continue with ‘The Justice of Law Abiding Citizen’ (6:00, SD) is a brief look at the actual laws as they apply to what happens in the film. It’s too short to really work, but is an entertaining twist on the usual EPK. ‘Law in Black and White’ (15:00, HD) takes a look behind the scenes in stylistic black and white. This piece is a mix of raw behind the scenes, mostly of the heavier effects scenes, and kind of fluffy cast and crew interviews. Again, it’s mostly a selling piece, but it’s well made. ‘Preliminary Arguments’ (6:50, SD) features five special effects progressions with production commentary. The final piece is a pre-visualization of an alternate ending. Things end with a trailer ‘mash-up’ that apparently one some online contest, a real trailer, and trailers for other Anchor Bay releases.

Law Abiding Citizen: Unrated

Overall


Law Abiding Citizen isn’t exactly a great motion picture, and it doesn’t bring oodles to the mad vigilante formula, but it’s better than expected, and very well made. The film is technically tight, very well acted, tonally adept, and overall pretty satisfying right up to the point the villain’s plot is fully revealed, after which it’s a bit of a bummer. The Gothic and Noir visuals look very sharp on this 1080p Blu-ray disc, and the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is finely tuned to the suspense and mood. The extras are brief, but reasonably satisfying, even if the existence of two discs (one for each cut of the film) is a little odd. I recommend a viewing with muted expectations.


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