Dec 25, 2012

Film review "Law abiding citizen"

This purports to be a movie with a message. And, honestly, it could have been quite good. For a third of its total length, it sticks to that plan. But then, the plot gets out of hand, and while generating a certain degree of suspense, this is marred by how the original idea of criticizing the US practice of law enforcement is completely undercut and forgotten in the end.
Don't get me wrong, the plot still makes sense on a certain level, but it's just sad how its originality was laid to rest, in favour of an all-too-normal finish that could have appeared in every other movie. I will get to this in a minute.

-- Spoilers ahead --
The overall acting in my opinion was quite okay, but not more than standard. Gerard Butler plays his part well two thirds through the movie (not the last part but this is rather due to the overall plot's collapse). Frankly, though, it was hard for me to believe his metamorphosis from helpless family father to cold-blooded murderer and secret inventor-mastermind. However, I did never warm up to Jamie Foxx's style of play. His lack of empathy may have been part of the role, but his play also lacks charisma. Too often, he is uttering empty tough guy phrases of the „Don't you dare touch my family“-type. The domestic conflicts were implausible, too, as they were never resolved but still in the end everything was just fine. Granted, this is Hollywood, but why create such a fuss about stress at home in the first place? This is just misleading and leaves the viewer with a feeling of not being put off with a cheap solution.

Finally, here is my verdict on why I consider watching this movie a waste of time. As mentioned before, it is the end which is completely ruining the movie. Had they gone through with the quite interesting idea of criticizing the way the American law system works, this may have been a good movie. Disappointingly, this idea somehow gets lost halfway through the movie, when the guy who is trying to prove a point (Butler) apparently loses his own sense of judgment. His actions do not stand in any relation to the point he is trying to make.

I basically blame this on Hollywood's inability (or unwillingness) to think outside the box. So instead of creating a highly controversial movie, for which the potential is there, things get resolved the conventional way: No effort is made to try to understand a possible critique to the hegemonic system-in-practice, to the contrary, the bad guy is turned into a monster who is acting completely irrationally (on a sidenote, in my opinion the topic of terrorist motivation has been handled much better by the screenwriters of recent TV series Homeland). Butler turns out simply to be a threat to society that needs to be eliminated. No further examination of his ideas is required in order to keep the larger society safe.
There is some ambivalence remaining, insofar as Butler is playing a "brainiac", but this only helps the plot in furthering it to a climatic scenario of destruction. His character is not simply insane but rather completely crazy (or nuts), which makes him even more dangerous. With his brilliant yet vicious mind, he is seemingly always one step ahead. At the same time, his bloodthirst is getting ever more outrageous. In my opinion, this is some people in Hollywood showcasing their fear of really smart people with different ideas who seem so crazy that there can not be any reasonable way to understand them. Or grasp their motives. So what you do is misrepresent them, create a complete caricature. And in the end, the tough guy finds a way to outsmart the dangerously brilliant freak. I would call this symptom a technique of auto-legitimation. A defence of our existing view of the world, at the same time a normative reassurance that this is how things should be.

In the end of the movie, apparently Butler has achieved what he had set out to do: change the prosecutor's handling of legal affairs. Yet, this suddenly does not suffice to satisfy him anymore, and he needs to blow things up regardless. This is what bothered me, it betrays his motives from the start, and you feel fooled by the screenplay which seemed to promise otherwise.

("Law Abiding Citizen" has a score of 25% at rottentomatoes - however, 77% of viewers liked it there - and received 7.3 over at imdb. It stars Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx in the lead roles. Nonetheless, I'll still be looking forward to Foxx's new, Tarantino-directed film "Django Unchained".)

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