Friday, May 17, 2013

Film Review: Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

Law Abiding Citizen is a movie I heard a lot about when it first came out in October of 2009. I was told it was an amazing work of intelligent fiction. Something that would shake my moral fiber and make me question the system I was raised in. A film that would really truly and open my eyes to the world around me. Everybody who saw this film demanded that I had to watch it, and after four years of not listening to them (and three years of having it sit on my shelf thanks to the dirt cheap deals of a bankrupt Blockbuster), I finally popped it into the ol' 360.

Boy, was that not worth the hype!

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad movie by any means. It's actually a pretty good movie. It's just not the Earth-shattering masterpiece I'd been led to believe it would be. Really this isn't anything more than an action-crime movie where the super genius villain is actually given an opportunity to show off his super genius. It's kind of like Die Hard if Die Hard wasn't also dumb as nails. And while the film does attempt to create a sympathetic villain, all of that sympathy is quickly washed away when we learn how batshit insane he really is.

Most disappointing, I thought, about the movie was that it started, and went on for quite a while, with a lot of promise of at least being a good crime drama. There are a lot of cool ideas going into the film, and the acting is all really good. The characters, while not particularly likable, are all fairly distinguished. I have a lot of trouble with movies like this which incorporate large federal/official settings and characters. Especially when it comes to the overweight, old higher up characters who all kind of look, sound, and act the same. I didn't have that problem with this movie, I could recognize characters right away. Even the minor ones who only speak once but then show up in the background of later shots, I could recognize them. That's a testament to how well done the characters and acting was in this movie.

Unfortunately, the incredible premise and the amazing first two acts of the film are overshadowed by the absurdity and disappointment of the third act. The first two acts are all set up with a bit of action, but you can tell this is a movie that's building and building just for the climax. Just for that payoff. And then it doesn't payoff. Instead we discover that the villain spent ten years digging into every cell of the prison just in case he ended up in that one. Somehow he pulled this off without anybody noticing. You know, the officers never noticed, the warden never noticed, and the inmates living in those exact cells being dug into never noticed. We also learn that the guards never notice when the villain uses these tunnels to not-so-briefly escape prison life and resume occupation of various personas he's created to infiltrate the legal infrastructure.

While it's a cool idea and a wild fantasy, it's a little too wild for the world that was constructed around it. Up until that moment of madness this was a film about an intelligent man who had rigged everything prior to his incarceration and how he was still going to terrify the entire city from within his cell, simply because he had studied everyone and everything and had built timed mechanisms to make it all exactly so. The the movie tells us "No, that's not how it happens, nope. Here's something even more absurd". That really hurts the film. A lot.

Regardless, it's a really well-made piece of cinema. The camera work is all very crisp, and despite having a bit of that shakiness which has pervaded recent film endeavors, you're never at risk of motion sickness. There's an artistic flair to a number of shots throughout the film, and that really does add to the quality of the overall picture. While it might be easy to see through it all as trying a little too hard to be intellectual and groundbreaking, that's actually okay, because it does work most of the time and on a lot of levels.

To wrap it up, really, even though I was disappointed with the payoff and the third act there is a lot of good in this movie which can't be ignored. And to those who haven't already noticed it, this movie will point out the obvious flaws in our legal system (although I do note that the system it proposes is also a barbaric one and the system we have created was to get away from all that kind of nonsense where we routinely executed the wrong person, often an innocent person who was unrelated to the crime. Yeah). It's not an amazing movie, it's just a step above most action type films with the primary focus on an investigation as opposed to explosions (though there are plenty). It's a film that will engage you, and that's ultimately what sets it apart from a number of other movies in the genre. If you want to be engaged, and trust me, you do, you should give this one a look.

I'll go ahead and say eight out of ten, since it really is a cut above the rest. Just not a terribly large cut. But still a cut.

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