Thursday, October 22, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

Before I saw this movie, I heard considerable chatter throughout the internet regarding its outrageous nature; from nearly all accounts, it supposedly exceeded the boundaries of a typical B-movie. I appreciate films that realize what realm they operate in, and embrace their role in that realm without awkwardly attempting to transcend it. [Quick note: there are, of course, films that succeed in transcending genre without being awkward. The Dark Knight comes to mind.] For me, that internet chatter was a bit misplaced. I think Law Abiding Citizen remains firmly in B-movie territory, and (thankfully) it does so without any forehead-slapping detour from its core.

Law Abiding Citizen
Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Leslie Bibb

Ludicrously-named director F. Gary Gray has some solid films to his name thus far, most notably the remake of The Italian Job (with talks of its potential sequel, The Brazilian Job, still lingering). It's obviously unfair to compare LAC to The Italian Job since they inhabit different genres, but Gray's directing style in his newest feature hasn't changed that much since his 2003 hit. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about Gray's direction; that's both his problem and (I'm assuming) his saving grace.

Let me explain: Gray is perfectly competent behind the camera, but he doesn't add any specific style or flourish to his movies - they typically look very similar (at least in the case of The Negotiator, Italian Job, and now LAC), and there's nothing to distinguish his work from other directors. I'd put him a rung or two above Brett Ratner on the director ladder; he always executes well, but never contributes that extra something that gives him a style all his own. That's a problem for artistic reasons, but I'm sure it translates to an asset in Hollywood. The Playlist recently wrote a piece about potential directors for The Avengers, and they named Ron Howard as a candidate for the same reasons I'd nominate F. Gary Gray: they are both unassuming big name directors who could easily turn out a solid product. No Michael Bay-esque ego conflicts, no "Tony Jaa disappearing into the jungle" fiascos: these guys would both be puppets for Marvel's ultimate goal for The Avengers - to make a middle-of-the-road movie that everyone will enjoy. If you want somebody who can give it to you straight, hire F. Gary Gray.

Let's get back to the film at hand. Law Abiding Citizen was written by Equilibrium scribe Kurt Wimmer, and I've been excited about seeing this movie ever since Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) was attached to direct. The concept of an imprisoned mastermind carrying out villainous deeds from his jail cell was (and still is, I suppose) intriguing to me, but the film never rises above its logline and ultimately feels very "written" as you watch it. Not helping matters is every occasion in which Wimmer recycles the gimmick into actual lines of dialogue, saying things like, "You've got to be kidding. He's killing people from inside his cell?!" and things of that sort, which happens more than once. But my favorite part of the writing is Jamie Foxx's District Attorney character making ridiculous demands of his staff: "Get me the records of every industrial property purchased in Philadelphia in the last ten years!" Come on, bro - narrow it down a little.

One technical aspect of the film I was impressed with was the editing. Specifically, there is one scene that stands out as the best edited of the entire film. Early on in the story (minor spoilers), Jamie Foxx's character elects to see a man die by lethal injection rather than see his daughter's cello recital. The two scenes, occurring simultaneously, are intercut brilliantly; everything from the curtain opening in both scenes to the prisoner's last words spoken over the daughter's instrumental blends together to inform the audience that Foxx's character is witnessing a deadly performance by Butler's character, although unbeknownst to Foxx at the time.

Interestingly, Foxx and Butler were initially signed to play each other's roles. Butler changed his mind at the last minute and we ended up with the configuration we see today. The acting is utterly standard throughout the entire thing; there is not one performance that stands out above the rest, and even Gerard Butler's maniacal madman seems somewhat reserved with the exception of a few scenes. There was one supporting character who I thought was perfectly cast - Gregory Itzin, who played President Charles Logan on TV's "24", plays the minor character of the warden at Butler's prison, and did a great job with a very small part.

Next Paragraph Only - Spoilers for Law Abiding Citizen

Leslie Bibb's character essentially plays the Rachel McAdams role from State of Play, but eventually becomes a non-factor when she is blown to bits in a car bomb. I was so disappointed in this development because immediately before she is killed, she makes a great hint at the identity of her new boyfriend, Chester. Foxx says something like "I can't wait to meet him," and she says something like "Oh, he's not ready for you yet." Instantly, my mind shot back to a previous scene where Bibb questions Foxx about whether they are working for more than just a high conviction rate. My mind put two and two together - obviously, I thought, Bibb's "new boyfriend" is none other than Gerard Butler's character! She wasn't thrilled with the decision made ten years ago, and has been feeding Butler information this entire time. Alas, my brain was a little too hyperactive for this film and its mediocre machinations - I'm still under the impression the movie would have been more effective (or at least more interesting) had my idea been proven correct.

End of Spoilers

I was also under the impression going in that the violence would be excessive, but that is not the case. Sure, there is one VERY bloody scene in a jail cell (I won't give away what happens, but blood ends up EVERYWHERE), but aside from that, there was really nothing out of the ordinary. Gerard Butler threatens to chop a dude to bits, and talks about what he did to the guy later, but we never see him actually do it. There was talk of a rape scene, but you have to be really looking for it to even notice that it happens. After recently seeing Sam Peckinpah's 1971 Straw Dogs, which features one of the most uncomfortable-to-watch rape sequences I've ever beheld (thankfully I haven't seen that many), it's going to take a lot more than innuendo to affect me the same way Straw Dogs did.

Law Abiding Citizen stays afloat just enough as to not be boring, but never reaches any worthwhile plateau at any level: story, visual effects, dialogue, direction, acting, music - any way you slice it, this movie's pretty average. It's maybe worth a rental, but there are much better films out there from everyone involved that would be time better spent in my opinion. Until next time...


Jeff Worthington said...

Quite commenting as me, Horace. Marilyn says it's in bad taste.

Marilyn Monroe.

She reads the Internet.

Unbelievable, isn't it?

Ben Pearson said...

If you think that I commented on my GeekTyrant post as Jeff W., then you're mistaken.

It took me like 10 hours to figure out what the hell this comment meant, by the way.

Jeff Worthington said...

Just in time for when I get around to getting out of bed...

Oh god, the waffle timer has been going off for 9 straight hours.

Sorry, Mrs. Smith.

Panther Joe said...

I thought this movie was excellent. How could you not appreciate the devolution of Butler's character?

How do you mean the film seems very "written?" Is it that the story didn't seem practical at all or all the actors fell flat?

Ben Pearson said...

Butler didn't do anything to really impress me. Sure, on the surface the audience should be able to relate to his character and his struggles, but I felt like he was playing it too much like the villain for me to truly connect with him.

When I say it feels "written," I mean it in a similar way that a movie like "I Love You Man" feels written. The dialogue doesn't feel natural, the delivery doesn't feel honest; at many points, it took me out of the movie and had me imagining the writer sitting down at a table and writing it.