Law Abiding Citizen is a 2009 American vigilante action thriller film directed by F. Gary Gray from a screenplay written by Kurt Wimmer. It stars Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx and takes place in Philadelphia, telling the story of a man driven to seek justice while targeting not only his family's killer but also those who have supported a corrupt criminal justice system, intending to assassinate anyone supporting the system. Law Abiding Citizen was filmed on location in Philadelphia, and released theatrically by Overture Films in North America on October 16, 2009.
The film was nominated for a Saturn Award as the Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film of the year, but lost to Inglourious Basterds. The film also garnered NAACP Image Awards nominations for both Jamie Foxx (Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture) and F. Gary Gray (Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture).
In a Philadelphia home invasion, Clarence Darby murders the wife and daughter of engineer Clyde Shelton, who is forced to watch. Prosecuting attorney Nick Rice is unable to securely convict Darby due to mishandled evidence. Unwilling to risk lowering his high conviction rate, he makes a deal with Darby: in exchange for testifying against his accomplice, Rupert Ames (who only intended to steal from Clyde and flee), Darby will plead guilty to third degree murder and receive a lighter sentence. Ames is convicted and sentenced to death, while Darby is released after a few years. Clyde feels betrayed by Nick and the justice system.
Ten years later, Ames is executed via lethal injection, but he dies in agonizing pain due to a chemical alteration which contains evidence implicating Darby. Meanwhile, Darby is awakened by an anonymous caller alerting him that police are en-route to his apartment looking for him. The caller, using an electronically distorted voice, knows that there's cocaine, and a possibly underaged woman in the apartment, and warns Darby that he's looking at life in prison. As the police draw near Darby sneaks into a police car and, at taking the lone officer's gun, forces him to drive from the location. Following directions over the phone, Darby has the officer drive them to a deserted warehouse. There, the officer reveals that he is Clyde, and that he made the call. He paralyzes Darby with tetrodotoxin-coated spikes on the handle of the gun that Darby snatched. Clyde straps Darby to a table, makes medical preparations to prolong Darby's suffering, and then video-records himself dismembering and killing him. When Darby's remains are found, evidence ties his death to Clyde; Clyde willingly surrenders and goes to prison.
In prison, Clyde demands a new mattress in his cell in exchange for a "confession." Nick initially refuses, but after learning that Clyde sent Nick's family the snuff film of Darby's murder and traumatized them, District Attorney Jonas Cantrell orders Nick to make the deal. In court, Clyde represents himself and successfully argues he should be granted bail, then berates the judge for accepting the legal precedent he cited, believing her too easily convinced and eager to let madmen and murderers back on the street. The judge cites him for contempt of court and orders him to be jailed.
After giving Nick his confession, Clyde demands an elaborate steak lunch and a music player be delivered to his cell by a specific time, in exchange for the location of Darby's lawyer, who was reported missing. Nick agrees, though the lunch is delayed a few minutes by the warden's security measures. Once he has his meal, Clyde provides the location of the lawyer. Nick is too late to save Darby's lawyer as he was suffocated by time-mechanized materials while Clyde's lunch was delayed. After sharing his meal with a cellmate, Clyde proceeds to kill him with his steak bone, forcing the warden to secure him in solitary confinement.
Cantrell arranges a meeting with a CIA contact and brings Nick. They learn Clyde previously worked with the agency, creating imaginative assassination devices and orchestrating intricate lethal tactics against nearly impossible targets. They are warned Clyde can kill anyone anytime he wishes and that if he is in jail, it is all part of a bigger plan. During a meeting with Nick and Cantrell, the judge is killed by an explosive hidden in her cell phone. Clyde explains to Nick that the murders are not about revenge, but the failures of the justice system. He then demands to be released and all charges against him dropped or he will "kill everyone".
Nick takes precautionary measures instead. After Clyde's deadline passes, a number of Nick's assistants die from car bombs. Nick meets with Clyde in private, beats him, and yells at him in frustration that if they had tried to convict Ames and Darby, they might have gone free. Clyde counters that Nick did not care and that if he had at least tried but failed, Clyde would have accepted it. Nick demands an end to the killings, but Clyde tells him that he is just beginning to destroy the corrupt system and all who believe in it. While leaving the funeral of a colleague, Cantrell is killed by a weaponized bomb disposal robot. Nick is ready for his resignation; however, the irate mayor puts the city on lockdown and promotes Nick to acting District Attorney.
Nick learns that Clyde owns an auto garage near the prison. A tunnel leads to a cache of guns, disguises, and other equipment below the solitary confinement cells, with secret entrances to each cell. He realizes that Clyde wanted to be in solitary confinement all along; this allowed him to easily leave the prison without detection and carry out his pre-meditated murders while misleading the police, who have assumed his murders to be the work of accomplices. Evidence points to Clyde's next target, City Hall, where the mayor is holding an emergency meeting. Nick and his men cannot find Clyde, but discover a cell-phone-activated suitcase bomb planted in the room directly below the meeting.
Clyde returns to his cell and is surprised to find Nick waiting for him. Clyde suggests another deal, but Nick, having finally come to understand him, says he no longer makes deals with murderers. Nick tries to reason with Clyde, but Clyde activates the suitcase bomb, causing Nick to flee. Clyde realizes too late that Nick moved the bomb to his cell, which is now sealed. Accepting his fate, Clyde smirks at having finally taught Nick that one has to work outside the system to stop some people, before sadly staring down at his daughter's bracelet as the bomb explodes, killing him.
The epilogue shows Nick watching his daughter in a musical stage performance, an event for which he previously had difficulty finding time to attend.
- Jamie Foxx as Nicholas "Nick" Rice
- Gerard Butler as Clyde Alexander Shelton
- Viola Davis as Mayor April Henry
- Bruce McGill as Jonas Cantrell
- Leslie Bibb as Sarah Lowell
- Colm Meaney as Detective Dunnigan
- Regina Hall as Kelly Rice
- Michael Irby as Detective Garza
- Roger Bart as Brian Bringham
- Gregory Itzin as Warden Iger
- Emerald-Angel Young as Denise Rice
- Christian Stolte as Clarence James Darby
- Michael Kelly as Bray
- Annie Corley as Judge Laura Burch
- Richard Portnow as Bill Reynolds
- Josh Stewart as Rupert Ames
Gerard Butler was initially signed on to play the prosecuting attorney, while Jamie Foxx was the criminal mastermind operating from inside prison, a reversal of their roles in the final version.
Frank Darabont was expected to direct the film, but he left production due to creative differences with the producers.
Filming began in January 2009 and took place in and around Philadelphia. Filming locations included Philadelphia's City Hall, Laurel Hill Cemetery and the now closed Holmesburg Prison. Holmesburg's "Thunderdome command center" is quite evident in the movie.
The score to Law Abiding Citizen was composed by Brian Tyler, who recorded his score with a 52-piece ensemble of the Hollywood Studio Symphony at the Sony Scoring Stage with help from Kieron Charlesworth. The film also uses "Eminence Front" by The Who and "Engine No. 9" by Deftones on Clyde's iPod while he is eating his steak in his cell. While Clyde calls Darby to help him 'escape' the police after Ames' execution, "Bloodline" by Slayer is Darby's ringer. The tune at the end for closing credits is "Sin's A Good Man's Brother" by Grand Funk Railroad.
The premiere was held on November 15, 2009, at the Cineworld complex in Glasgow, Butler's home town. Many British tabloids labeled the event as the "Homecoming Premiere", in reference to the Homecoming Scotland 2009 celebrations.
The film took second place in its opening weekend, with $21,039,502, behind Where the Wild Things Are. It went on to gross $126.6 million in total worldwide.
Law Abiding Citizen received generally negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 26% score, based on 159 reviews with an average rating of 4.3/10. The website's critical consensus states that "Unnecessarily violent and unflinchingly absurd, Law Abiding Citizen is plagued by subpar acting and a story that defies reason." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 34 out of 100, based on 26 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".
In his review for the Chicago Sun Times, Roger Ebert said, "Law Abiding Citizen is the kind of movie you will like more at the time than in retrospect." He then went on to say, "Still, there's something to be said for a movie you like well enough at the time." Ebert rated the film 3 out of 4 stars.
- Vigilante film
- List of films featuring home invasions
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