Ten years ago engineer Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) saw his young family killed before his very eyes when two intruders broke in and committed the crime. He would have rebuilt his life after this tragedy, but something happened at the trial, which he thought should have been an open and shut case, that unhinged his already traumatised mind when a plea bargain was introduced seeing one villain get the maximum punishment and the other walk free after a few short years thanks to him testifying against his former associate. Clyde did not think this was fair, and complained to his lawyer Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) - but then he decided to take things further...
What started out as a brutal drama about the failings of the justice system turned into a ludicrous thriller in the hands of screenwriter Kurt Wimmer in Law Abiding Citizen. The trouble was, its starting point for this premise, apparently a movie for everyone who thinks the courts are too lenient on criminals in spite of prison overcrowding being a huge problem, was no less weighted in its reactionary favour, with the killer who got away with a three year sentence for his part in a horrific crime being a complete sleazeball, therefore inviting us in the audience to cheer on Clyde when he opts to put his schemes into operation and exact revenge.
So we land in the present day, and everyone looks exactly the same no matter that ten years have passed, with Clyde turning into the kind of mastermind who would not be out of place in a comic book movie, and oddly if he had been then he would have made a pretty good fit at least in a Punisher effort, something where you would be expecting the action to go over the top. It's that dubious morality informing the story that sticks in the craw, with Foxx's careerist lawyer painted as a selfish cad who is only out to further his power at the legal department - he doesn't even go to his daughter's cello recital, yeah, that's how awful he is (although we don't really get to hear her either, so maybe she wasn't all that good at it).
This indicates that we're supposed to cheering on the behaviour of Clyde when he begins acting like a character in a slasher movie and working out ingenious manners in which to kill off everyone he feels has slighted him, which in his mind is the entire Philadelphia justice system. So once the killer sentenced to death has his lethal injection machine tampered with to ensure he dies screaming, the other one is hunted down, kidnapped and cut up with power tools, which we're intended to endorse because he was such a lowlife. Vigilante movies have always been on dodgy legal ground, but the trashier these things get the better as the less it seems we're meant to take them seriously.
Here, however, the pace is leaden, with every plot twist enacted in the gravest tones possible without actually sacrificing the suspect encouragement to smack our lips every time someone is offed. If this had picked up the pace, found a sense of humour, or tightened the tension screws that bit more, we might have had a good time, yet the belief that Law Abiding Citizen has something important to say is its overwhelming drawback. This is especially the case when Clyde is arrested and the murders continue, with Nick trying to work out if he has an accomplice before the next death occurs, something that appears to have seen Wimmer painting himself into a narrative corner. The way he gets out of this is absolutely farcical, no matter that Clyde had a decade to prepare, and the moral, that Nick finally earns our respect when he descends to the reprehensible level of his opponent, would be laughable if the film didn't appear to accept it without question. Music by Brian Tyler.