Starring Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney and Viola Davis. Dirceted by F. Gary Gray
Rated MA 15+ (strong violence and coarse language). 108 mins.
'Disturbing' is probably the word I would settle on to describe the effect of Law Abiding Citizen. It is also unbelievable (though in these days of terrorist attacks and the availability of destructive technology to wreak havoc has to be kept in mind). And, by way of warning for an audience which may be interested in the theme of crime, vengeance, law and justice, another word to describe some murder sequences is 'horrible'. Two of them, in particular, could be upsettingly macabre and blood-soaked.
This is another citizen vengeance film (a long way from Death Wish). It also contrasts with the more local and, in comparison, restrained violence of the British revenge and justice drama with Michael Caine, Harry Brown, released at the same time as this film.
We are in no doubt from the beginning that revenge is in store with the very brutal killing of an engineer's wife and daughter. When the prosecutor makes a deal with one of the accused (the brutal one) to testify against the other. The engineer objects to doing deals with murderers, especially the star prosecutor who is highly ambitious and arrogant. The engineer goes off broken and smouldering, leading to a deranged mind that targets the whole justice system and its failures. But, ten years pass.
When the engineer begins his revenge, he does it, as we say, with a vengeance – and that is an understatement. It all becomes mysterious as he does not conceal what he does and lands in jail, abusing the judge in a bail hearing case and confining himself to prison where he makes deals with the prosecutor which, when broken, lead to brutal deaths. The mayor is bluntly and dominatingly angry and closes down the city. How can the killer be stopped?
If that is intriguing, by all means see the film and how it works out, allowing for the aforementioned cautions and for the always ambiguous responses elicited by stories where an individual, a law abiding citizen, goes out to singlehandedly wreak execution on those who seem to have escaped the justice system. One of the reasons for seeing it, despite the increasingly incredible plot developments (and probable impossibilities), is that it is very well made and tests audience sympathies for the engineer and also for the prosecutor – and fighting against time limits and impositions.
They are played, rather quietly and in a softly-spoken way, very effectively by Gerard Butler as the engineer and Jamie Foxx as the prosecutor. A very strong supporting cast includes Bruce McGill as the DA, Colm Meaney as an old-style detective and Viola Davis in a cameo as the more-than-no-nonsense mayor.
F. Gary Gray uses Philadelphia as a character in the film. It looks striking – with reminders of the founding fathers' establishing of the justice system there. And the pace is quite intense, moving quickly over the plot improbabilities and testing the audience responses to the arrogance of each character.
'Disturbing' is the word used at the beginning of this review. 'Frightening' is the word for the end. The fact that such destruction could be wrought by an individual taps into fears of terrorism these days – and the fear that authorities and threatened individuals never know when and where they could be killed.
Village Roadshow Out January 28
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.