Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cinewise Throwback - Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

We're big advocates of writers here at Cinewise, of the screenplays behind the films we all love, and the scribes who rarely get the credit/respect they deserve for their part in bringing these works to life.  So with screenwriter Kurt Wimmer's Salt spicing up the blockbuster buffet this summer, we thought it would be nice to take some time to look back at some of his previous work, starting with last year's Law Abiding Citizen.  Here's what we said then...

Law Abiding Citizen isn’t the maverick “make ya think” flick it pretends to be, but it at least aims to be, which is more than you can say for most Hollywood thrillers. Gritty, violent and by the books, it’s an action-thriller that entertains via doctrine – a few modern cowboys butting heads in a modern, Saw-crossed moral frontier.

The cowboy in the white hat is Jamie Foxx, an ADA tethered to the legal system and all its fortunes and misgivings. In the black we have Gerard Butler, who’s presented to the audience as more of a grey, but would really rather play the part of the white anyhow. Butler’s character is a grieving widower, his family brutally attacked and murdered in front of his own disbelieving eyes (how he survived, we’ll never know). The bad guys – the ones who took his wife and little girl away from him – benefited from said justice system’s misgivings, and Foxx’s somewhat tentative approach to the case. Now, ten years later, Butler’s back to dish out his own justice, on both the murderers and the system that failed him.

Unlike most vigilantes, however, Butler’s maniacal killer isn’t someone we can really pull for. He’ll do horrible things to prove his point… remarkably bloody, gut-wrenchingly horrible things. It helps to have the charismatic Butler in the roll – he provides the ounce of affability we’re looking for. But he’s a still a killer, if partly understood.

On the other hand, there isn’t really much to root for in Foxx’s stubborn, swagger-ific, negligent family man either. He’s not killing people – but he IS letting them get away at times (however begrudgingly), and he’s using “the system” as his guilt crutch. So it’s hard to pick a car in this race. Mostly we just sit back and wait for them to crash into each other.

And crash they do. Directed by F. Gary Gray (a long way from the cheery spirits of The Italian Job) and written by Kurt Wimmer (Street Kings), Citizen packs quite a punch, with more than a fair share of “wow” moments that keep theater audiences jumping. But very little here is really a surprise. Traversing territory well worn by The Dark Knight and the ghosts of Crime Movies Past, Wimmer’s script makes sure to set up each kill with the appropriate one-liner or “everything’s gonna be a-okay” beat. Gray, for his part, plays the beats well, but never cool or slick enough to seem as if he isn’t playing them at all. The formula’s are tattooed all over this one, with more than a few shout-outs more blatant than subtle (“Hey, thanks Seven!”).

Still, it is fun, and the players play well. Butler stumbles over his Scottish brogue from time to time, and Foxx seems to have been studying from Will Smith’s “Bad Boys Tricks of the Trade” textbook, but they keep us invested, and the twists keep us eager. Law Abiding Citizen isn’t as good as the films it emulates, but it’s a decent second cousin.

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