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Movie Review

Law Abiding Citizen

MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language.

Reviewed by: Raphael Vera
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens, Adults
Genre:
Crime, Thriller, Drama
Length:
2 hr. 2 min.
Year of Release:
2009
USA Release:
October 16, 2009 (wide—2,700+ theaters)
DVD: February 16, 2010
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Overture Films

About murder in the Bible

REVENGE—Love replaces hatred—former israeli soldier and an ex-PLO fighter prove peace is possible-but only with Jesus

Anger in the Bible

Justice

Lawyers in the Bible

Judges

Justice of God

Sin

The Final Judgment of God

Death in the Bible

ETERNAL LIFE—What does the Bible say about it? Answer

Eternal death in the Bible

RAPE—victims stories

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry… What does the Bible say? Answer

VIOLENCE—How does viewing violence in movies affect families? Answer

Is Jesus Christ the answer to your questions?
Discover the good news that Jesus Christ offers
Paradise or Pain? Why is the world the way it is?
Why is the world the way it is? If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving, would He really create a world like this? (filled with oppression, suffering, death and cruelty) Answer
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Discover God’s promise for all people—told beautifully and clearly from the beginning. Discover The HOPE! Watch it on-line, full-length motion picture.
Featuring: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Viola Davis, Leslie Bibb, Michael Gambon, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Regina Hall, Michael Kelly, Christian Stolte, Josh Stewart, Gregory Itzin, Michael Irby, Dan Bittner, Richard Portnow, Annie Corley, Brooke Stacy Mills, Ksenia Hulayev, Damien Colletti, Emerald-Angel Young, Ryan Woodle, Evan Hart, Reno Laquintano, Brian Distance, Ruben Fischman, Chetan Dave, Eddie Noone, Michael Ahl, Mike D. Anderson, Frank Apollonio, Michael Baczor, Robert Bizik, Ernest E. Brown, Lee Burkett, Larry Carter, Garrett Ching, Chris Clemens, Marcellus L Connor, Greg Cool, Vince Corkadel, Tom Delconte, Christopher Descano, Justin Doescher, Phil E. Eichinger, Jim Ewald, Ronald E. Giles, Vaughn Goland, Matthew Gooley, John Charles Hunt, Michael Wingate Jones, Arnold Y. Kim, Steven J. Klaszky, David Kneeream, Mark Kratzer, Michael J. Kraycik, Kurt Leitner, Bob Lewandowski, Art Lyle, Todd McCall, John Mitchell, Robert Montano, Keith Moyer, Denise Lynch Murter, Ken Myers, Liz O'Leary, Norman Outlaw, Luis Pacheco, Wisly Paul, Joe Pawlenko, George Pellegrino, Tino Quezada, Vincent Riviezzo, James Rogy, Jordan Romero, Andy Sinatra, Gilbert Soto, Will Souders, Tracy Toth, Frank Traynor, Teddy Valdes, Sonny Vellozzi, David Villalobos, Matt von Siegel, Thomas Walton, Paul Weaver, Jennifer Wiener, Brian Anthony Wilson, Mike Wilson, John Wooten, Stosh Zona
Director: F. Gary Gray
Producer: The Film Department, Gerard Butler, Lucas Foster, Dave Gare, Mark Gill, Michael Goguen, Robert Katz, Neil Sacker, Alan Siegel, Ian Watermeier, Jeff G. Waxman, Kurt Wimmer
Distributor: Overture Films

“Justice at any cost.”

Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is enjoying family time with his wife and daughter when their home is abruptly invaded, and all are bound, gagged, stabbed and then left for dead. Clyde is the only survivor.

The young hotshot prosecutor, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), enters a plea agreement that sentences one of the two killers to death row and the other to just a few years. Nicks boss Jonas, the District Attorney (Bruce McGill), had warned him that he first needed to explain the ‘deal’ to the grieving father. Clyde’s disapproval of our flawed justice system sets the stage for what will follow.

Ten years later, both criminals are brought to a gruesome and painful end, not by the Philadelphia criminal justice system but by Clyde. Clyde is soon arrested, but his lack of surprise and acceptance makes one suspect that even his arrest is just part of a bigger plan.

Amazingly, from behind bars Clyde is able to continue systematically eliminating both those who were a part of the original miscarriage of justice, as well anyone who now stands in his way, all the while still taking the time to point out to us how our system fails to dispense ‘real’ justice every day.

Objectionable Content

The violence is intense and ranges from implied to graphic, including a horrific stabbing scene in jail. The rape is not strictly shown, and though the camera does cut away, there is little doubt as to what is taking place, in order to make it a gut wrenching experience. Another scene concerns the sawing of a living person’s body parts, that again takes place off camera and is later shockingly repeated, via DVD, in front of a child.

There are two scenes of nudity, the first focused on the semi-nude form of a prostitute in the killer’s apartment, and the second is Clyde’s backside as he strips completely before his capture.

The language is very foul, with over 30 uses of the ‘F’ word staple, along with variations of the slurs/curses ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘S’ most common in ‘R’ rated movies. The Lord’s name is taken in vain on several occasions and is never said in either praise or thanks.

You would think that Clyde had purposely assumed the role of God, and you would be right. From his vantage point, there is no one to correct these wrongs, and, in referencing to what he has planned, he says “It’s gonna be biblical.” The film is steeped in existentialism as God does not appear to play a role in anyone’s life.

At one point, the Mayor of Philadelphia and Nick are arguing over the situation when she stops and asks for a Bible. Were they actually going to turn to the Word of God for guidance? No, she needed it for a ‘swearing-in’ of office. There, in a nutshell, was both the problem and the answer. It was right in front of them, and they didn’t realize it. While our laws are undeniably based on Judeo-Christian values and precepts, we have, in the practice of law, devolved our system to the point where almost anything can be justified, or defended, and, in the process, many treat God’s book as just another prop.

Lessons

The prosecutor, Nick, is all about advancing his career, and a near perfect conviction rate is key to this. He cannot comprehend the truth which Jesus spoke of when he said “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

In a particularly telling scene, Jonas, contemplating the system and their hand in bargaining with killers, asks if ‘we brought this on ourselves.’ Nick quickly responds, “Absolutely not.” Nick’s pride prevents him from accepting the truth, and as the apostle Peter writes, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

The criminals that started this drama are utterly reprehensible and portray the violent extreme of so many in this fallen world who “…live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on Earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19).

Vengeance is the constant throughout the movie, and the consequences are a lesson that, sadly, is not learned by film’s end by even the prosecutor. We, as Christians, should know better than these characters, for God’s word instructs us, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

The movie’s pacing was well done. The acting was only fair, due no doubt to the one dimensional script, as we have seen better from both Foxx and Butler. A higher than normal amount of “suspension of belief” is required from the audience in order to accept both Clyde’s incredible talents in mayhem and destruction and how far he goes to extract his “justice at any cost.” It should also be noted that, remarkably, there are no good guys in this movie.

Yes, the film is at times very exciting and suspenseful, and the audience can’t help but sympathize with Clyde’s motives. However, “Law Abiding Citizen” is only a so-so effort, and, with the offensive material and no redemptive payoff (especially by the prosecutor), it is hardly a positive or edifying movie. While primarily geared for less discerning teens/young adults, if you are part of the mature and older crowd that enjoys this type of film, you will probably cheer alongside them, but you may just feel guilty about it later.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive

none

Neutral
Neutral—I went in to this movie with high expectations. Gerard Butler is among my favorite actors, and the overall plot intrigued me. That being said, I was blown away by all of the brutal violence depicted. Granted, I knew I should have expected some violence, given its rating, but the manner in which Clyde—the main character-goes after his family’s killers is gruesome, to say the least. I felt torn, knowing that the murderers deserved to suffer for their crimes, and also feeling revulsion at the ways in which Clyde exacted his revenge. He did not even stop with the men who murdered his wife and little girl, he also went after everyone involved in the trial. Strangely, I wanted Clyde to live, and be redeemed, right up until he murdered an innocent young woman who had worked for the assistant DA in the trial. At that moment, I saw the character for what he truly was: an evil murderer, no better than the men who murdered his family. “Do not say, ‘I will recompense evil;’ Wait for the LORD, and He will save you”—Proverbs 20:22, NKJV.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Brooke, age 18 (USA)
Neutral—I saw the previews and thought that this movie would be entertaining, and it was. Yes, it was violent, yes there were some extreme parts, but I expected some of these things from the preview. The problem I had with the movie didn’t come from the movie itself but from the Canadian Film rating of it. They had it rated as 14A. Because it had this rating I figured it would be okay bringing my 14 year old son to see it with me, after all, at 14 he could get into see it by himself. I was wrong… very wrong.

This movie, although it pans away several times during some potentially graphic scenes, is still a very graphic movie. The prison shanking scene was incredibly disturbing, and the language was atrocious for this rating level. I recommend that if you are in Canada, and are going to see this movie, you treat it as an 18A or R rating.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Len, age 30 (Canada)
Neutral—First, Law Abiding Citizen is not for kids. There are a number of gruesome images and instances of brutal off screen violence. The f-bomb is hurled from every nook and cranny in most every prison interior shot. There’s an implied rape scene; also, Gerry is—in the literal sense—butt-naked for a few seconds. Adults, be responsible. Leave jr. @ home.

Now for the meat ‘n taters. This fine reel *had* the potential for a 3 outta 4. It’s buried deep in there but soured by (what I deem) its proximity to a semi-unrelated franchise. Saw. That’s right. Saw. Let’s examine.

The anti-hero of the Saw franchise is John Kramer, or more colloquially, Jigsaw. He is a civil engineer on death-row (terminally ill) with delusional notions of pedagogical life lessons on, well, life. His unwilling students range from drug addicts to con artists and about anyone and everyone in between. They are often faced with life-or-death tasks or “games” as Jigsaw calls them. The envisioned endgame is a greater appreciation of one’s own life at the cost of, oh say, a limb, a loved one, a pack of smokes, etc.—that or death. Jigsaw got his start in this line of work after a failed suicide attempt following the news of his impending demise, that and the blunt-force-trauma death of his unborn son.

Compare now Clyde Shelton (Gerry B.) from Citizen. Shelton is an engineering brain once involved in exclusive black ops. Like John Kramer, he is meticulous and cunning beyond all belief. Very adroit in most every imaginable facet of life. Convinced the judicial system is corrupt through and through, Clyde commits a series of murders, staged acts, and other nefarious deeds in hopes of schooling the less closed-minded individuals that make up the long arm of the law. Like Jigsaw, Shelton’s “students” don’t exactly see eye-to-eye with their unwanted teacher. And like John Kramer following a tragic death, Shelton got his start in the “reform business” after the devastating murders of his wife and daughter.

No matter how you cut the cake, both of these anti-hero archetypes were ultimately wrong in their perception of “right.” Both lost sight of morality when they took justice, and moreover, life vs. death, into their own hands. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. What may have started as acceptable, albeit selfish ambitions (to instruct), quickly became their Midas touch. There you have it folks. My not-so-concise treatise on why Law Abiding Citizen fails to hit the highest (3/4) I’ll award a flick upon a first viewing.

Rather, Citizen is about a 3 outta 5. And don’t confuse my litany with poor regards for Citizen. Its script is beautiful; it’s mostly devoid of plot holes and puts the “thud” back in edge-of-your-seat entertainment. But… its the similarity to Saw that makes Citizen suffer a marginal loss of originality. Add to that the fact the central characters of both groups of films are evil—bottom line—so it makes bonding or identifying with them impossible, ‘less of course wickedness is your nightly bread ‘n butter. Put the two demerits together, and boom. A marginal loss of pts. Watch it on video—you’re better off without the arbitrary side-commentary of misc. theater patrons.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Mega Tron, age 23 (USA)
Neutral—I will not rate his film as a negative based on it’s violent content. We live in a violent and hateful world, and the reality is at times justice doesn’t prevail as we sometimes think it should. It’s tough to watch this movie and not ask yourself, “what would I do if I was in his shoes?” I can’t even begin to imagine being the victim of such or horrific crime, and to top it off, the person you believe to be the one to set things right is actually making you the victim all over again. I would not doubt that if given the same chance, many of us would take action ourselves.

After all, we are all sinners, and anger can be difficult to deal with properly. At first I almost applauded the main character for seeing that justice was done since “the system” had failed so miserably. But quickly I realized he took it way too far. His anger and hatred affected so many innocent lives that all he ended up doing was creating more victims. I do admit I did want to sit and yell at the prosecuting attorney for not focusing on getting justice done that fits the crime.

I do believe attorneys today have lost the purpose of their role in the judicial system. For attorneys that represent the guilty, their job is to insure their client gets a fair trial; it is not to get their client off the hook.

This is a very tough world to live in today. Many crimes go unpunished in our eyes, and at times it’s hard to have faith in knowing God will make things right in the end. It is a part of our faith that does get tested at times, and a part that we must all work very hard on to believe in. If we don’t, we may end up hurting others as did the victim in this film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Troy Mendez, age 35 (USA)
Negative
Negative—I went to see this movie yesterday not really knowing what it was about and regret it wholeheartedly. The whole movie was pretty much about violence and hate. I walked out of there feeling bad for even sitting through the whole thing. There is brief nudity (both male and female) scenes of violent murder and crazy amounts of unnecessary profanity. As a follower of Christ I don’t know why anyone would willingly subject themselves to this kind of movie. I wish I hadn’t seen it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Sarah, age 23 (USA)
Negative—I do not think that I could recommend the viewing of “Law Abiding Citizen” because this movie is extremely violent, there are other immoral activities throughout the film, and the seemingly subliminal message is not Biblical. Firstly, Butler’s character is particularly cruel; for example, he brutally kills his prison cell mate by stabbing him repeatedly. This was an extremely gory scene in the film. He also gives a graphic description of how he tortures another individual and he violently kills numerous people in the film. Additionally, there are frequent cursing, scenes of drug use, and a scene with an overly exposed woman.

Ultimately, even though Butler’s character claimed not to be seeking vengeance, the subliminal message of the film appeared to be that revenge is sweet. The Bible states, that we should not seek revenge but leave revenge to God (Romans 12:17-21), as He is perfectly just in all His ways (John 5:30) unlike humans, who are all imperfect and possess limited knowledge. Equally disturbing is the idea that people should attempt to take the law into their own hands. As previously stated, this movie is not recommended, and may leave unpleasant excerpts from the film in your memory, as it did mine, which is why I chose not to view some parts of the film at the end. It’s NOT worth it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Delia, age 20 (Bahamas)
Movie Critics
…packs enough potent shocks to lure sizable thrill-seeking crowds to multiplexes… Wasting no time, the pic plunges the viewer immediately into a horrific yet unprotracted domestic bloodbath. …
—Justin Chang, Variety
…a taut thriller… The explanation of Clyde’s methods is preposterous, but it comes late enough that F. Gary Gray, the director, is first able to generate considerable suspense and a sense of dread. …[3/4]
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
…it’s all a lot of empty talk with the filmmakers figuring if they bandy about the word “justice” enough, it will give the illusion of conscience to a movie that is merely a revenge-genre retread. …ultimately laying bare the complete absence of substance to the movie’s conflicted message. … The film’s greatest sin… its complete failure to engage audiences on even a visceral level. …becoming more ludicrous until the movie’s nutty, logic-be-damned finale. …
—Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times
…A glib, brutal and preposterous revenge fantasy… It’s a “Who dies next?” slasher film masquerading as a revenge thriller. … [2/5]
—Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel
…“Law Abiding Citizen” takes it a little too far… most of what we see on the screen is implausible, superficial and only marginally involving. …
—Claudia Puig, USA Today
…Obviousness sinks dim-witted, sadistic “Law Abiding Citizen”… F. Gary Gray (“The Italian Job”) dully directs Kurt Wimmer’s over-the-top script with a misty, bleached-out aesthetic that only makes the movie feel like more of a drag. The mind wanders; distracting questions arise. …
—Associated Press
…LAW ABIDING CITIZEN has a strong moral worldview that asks important questions about justice, but its graphic violence and strong foul language warrant extreme caution. …
—Movieguide
Comments from non-viewers
Negative—I couldn’t get past the first half hour of this movie… It was just too much violence and gore. In fact, I don’t think I watched more than 20 minutes. I don’t think it’s worth wading through all the bloodshed and carnage in order to get some kind of message.
—Jan, age 57 (Guatemala)
I went to go see this movie with a friend female friend of mine. We enjoy seeing thriller movie and thought this one would be a good one to go see. We left after the first 15 min. of this movie because there was a rape scene, then it goes into a scene where the husband staples a guy to a table to “get back” at him for what he did to his wife and kid. We ended up walking out after he raised a mirror above the guy so that the guy could see everything he was getting ready to do to him. While holding a surgical knife to his eye saying “this is for your eye lids, in case you dare think of closing them;” he, of course, said this with more colorful language. This scene is when me and my friend left. It probably wasn’t gonna get any better, at all.

This movie just shows the depravity of men. The fact that this movie is in the theaters and has gotten the attention as it has is disturbing. This shows that you can glorify killing and murder. I will not recommend this movie to any one ever.
—Josh, age 21 (USA)