Law Abiding Citizen

According to international statistics, hot-burglaries are more common in places like England and Canada than America. Why? Experts maintain – with good reason – that not all criminals are dumb or willing to be shot, especially in America’s rural pro-gun regions. Read Richard Poe’s The Seven Myths of Gun Control. Or understand that (p.87): “Hot burglaries – in which the criminal enters while people are home – account for only 13 percent of all U.S. burglaries,” compared to nearly 50 percent in other first-world nations.  

Alas, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) in Law Abiding Citizen is one of the unlucky ones. He lives in liberal Philadelphia where home-invaders kill his wife and adorable child, in front of him, with no remorse. In an instant his life changes – but the unarmed victim turns vigilante. And to make matters interesting, Shelton goes after the criminals and the system.

To the handsome vigilante’s way of thinking, the “justice” pyramid values criminal-first rules and lawyerly manners, over the lives of others. Thus the movie provides many ethical landmines, with no easy-to-arrive-at answers. What’s more, Shelton’s nightmare is compounded by the fact that prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) makes a deal with one of the murderers, in order to guarantee a death penalty outcome for his accomplice.

Seen from the outside, Shelton’s bloody crusade appears psychopathic, but careful viewers will observe that he is often treating criminals and the criminal-friendly system with the same “respect” they gave him (and many other victims of crime). In some ways, Butler’s character is very much like the Spartan warrior he played in the cutting-edge movie, 300. While pacifists like to say that violence begets violence, the ugly truth is that appeasement invites bloodshed.

And Shelton isn’t the only man raising ethical questions. Returning to Foxx’s character, Rice, we confront explosive pro-life issues. By way of example, what will feminists make of the fact that the prosecutor refers to his unborn child as his daughter, while maintaining a pro-death penalty position? Is he a hypocrite or a realist? Maybe he just understands the differences between guilt and innocence, as a pro-life dad.

Director F. Gary Gray, to be sure, is not shy when it comes to showing blood, but at the same time the red liquid stuff never masks real ethical questions. In fact the violence exposes them, for all to see. As history shows blood can be the friend of good art, the whistleblower.

And a confession:  I wasn’t ready to confront so many ethical questions, in one action-packed movie. Moreover, the film’s surprising biblical references (to certain moral questions) reminded me of another famous lawbreaker.

Yes. Jesus – no pacifist – came to bring a “sword” not a pretend peace (Matthew 10:34); instructed his followers to purchase weapons (Luke 22:36) and lost a close family member. “To what extent is Butler’s character like him?” I asked.

True, the sword-friendly, table-turning rebel told us to turn the other cheek in some situations, but he never instructed men like Clyde Shelton to turn their children and women over to monsters, or nations over to barbarians. Of the war-friendly centurion with soldiers under him Jesus said, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” And would a genuine pacifist intimidate would-be predators with worse-than-drowning threats?

Butler’s performance – like Foxx’s – is thoroughly convincing. In fact we have conclusive proof that this movie succeeds because Evan Williams of the Weekend Australian (January 30-31) refers to it as “a thoroughly nasty film,” “a con,” a show for “Saw and torture-porn addicts.” If only Law Abiding Citizen lived up to advance reports about “the [right-wing] flaws in the US justice system,” he sighs. “And the worst thing is that I quite enjoyed it.”

Actually, big flaws are exposed in careerist lawyers, soft-on-crime judges, and their enablers, indicating that one reviewer watched this movie with a blindfold on, or wanted another anti-death penalty musical. For a long time, “social justice” activists (like metropolitan film critics) have sided with criminals over victims, gang rapists over tough prison systems, serial rapists over sodomised girls and liberal judges with bodyguards over working-class families without 24-7 security services.

Law Abiding Citizen isn’t a simple eye-for-an-eye revenge flick, but a movie with an eye on the bigger picture concerning the victims of crime, and it highlights controversial theological differences between soft hearts and soft minds. It basically asks: Who is really going too far?  

There’s nothing politically-correct about Gerard Butler’s daring role. If you’re a bit queasy, when it comes to bloody scenes, then stay at home. I, however, am happy to see Gray’s work as a classic American vigilante film, alongside other push-the-envelope films like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry or The Brave One, with Jodie Foster. Law Abiding Citizen deconstructs the appeaser’s criminal-first theology. It unashamedly shouts, Think.

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