Sunday, October 25, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

Year: 2009
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney

When the justice system fails you, what do you do? In filmdom, it usually means that someone will take the law into his own hands and serve justice in the most violent way possible.

But here, in Law Abiding Citizen, the filmmakers take it a step further. It's not just about punishing the guilty, it's about punishing the system and the incompetent people who support it.

Gerard Butler plays Clyde Shelton, a happy family man whose world gets turned upside down when two robbers break into his home and kill his wife and daughter right before his eyes. Based on the evidence available, assistant D.A. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) is unable to fully convict both the robbers, so he settles for sending one of them to the death penalty while the other one, who is the main orchestrator of the crime, walks away with a slap on the wrist.

Clyde is no doubt unhappy about this and pleads to Nick to do the right thing and bring both men to justice, but Nick refuses. Cut to ten years later, when one of the robbers finally receives his death sentence, but it doesn't go according to plan. What was supposed to be a routine lethal injection turns ugly and the guy dies horribly. Then his accomplice who escaped the law many years back is kidnapped and mutilated. By Clyde no less.

Nick and the police waste no time in bringing Clyde in and charging him for murder. However, Clyde has a few tricks up his sleeve. He manipulates the system and forces Nick to do as he says or he starts killing people. And even when he's behind bars, people who were connected to his family's case start to die. The defence attorney. The judge. And then Nick's colleagues.

Nick realises that he is up against someone extraordinary, someone who is smart and capable of anything, and isn't afraid to commit unspeakable acts. Can Nick stop Clyde on his mission of destruction?

F. Gary Gray directed an excellent film 11 years ago, called The Negotiator. That film, as far as cop thrillers go, is still unmatched in my book. That being said, Law Abiding Citizen is not Gray's best work, but I will say it is fairly decent. He knows how to bring out the best in his cast, and he always has the best actors to work with.

Foxx is good as the man desperate to stop the chaos unfolding before him, but it is Butler who brings the goods as Clyde, the man who is willing to do anything to bring the justice system to its knees. Some people have compared him to Hannibal Lecter and The Joker, but I feel that Clyde has a more noble motivation, and that is why he is the one you'd root for throughout the film.

However, the film needs an edge to be more memorable. It's lacking something. At first I couldn't put my finger on it, but now I think it's lacking a good amount of thrills and exceptional dialogue. You'll see Foxx and Butler spar verbally many times, but their dialogue needs an edge to make it stand out. The other supporting characters who get killed off are also not worth mentioning, which makes their deaths feel empty, and you won't sympathise with Nick at all, and root for Clyde instead. I think that's where the film fails to hit on an emotional standpoint.

It's a good thriller, and it's surely worth your time. Just keep in mind there are better films out there. (3.5/5)

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Year: 2009
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Cast: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames

My last review was Gamer, a film where people can control other people. Now in Surrogates, it's an almost similar plot, where people control robot versions of themselves.

Surrogates takes place in the near future, where technology has become advanced, and android versions of people can be made and controlled by their owners. Humans no longer have to leave their homes, they can simply plug their minds into a computer and control their robotic selves, made to look like alternative or better versions of their true image, and venture out into the world, and still be able to feel everything the same way they would normally. Best of all, these surrogates are very sturdy and safe to use, or so they thought.

One day, two surrogates are found destroyed, and their owners dead, their brains liquified in the process. FBI agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) investigate, and learn that a special weapon was used by a person not using a surrogate to do it. Their investigation leads them to the Dreads, a group of humans who abhor the use of surrogates and live in their own territory, away from everyone else. Greer then learns that the creator of the surrogates, Dr Canter (James Cromwell) may have been involved somehow, since one of the victims was his own son. All this leads to a war that could decide the fate of surrogacy.

Jonathan Mostow, director of the ingenious suspense thriller Breakdown, as well as the underappreciated Terminator sequel, takes the helm for Surrogates. He succeeds in creating a futuristic world where everyone has become dependent on a machine to carry out their day to day activities. In this film, you'll see all kinds of alternate versions of people, some very lifelike, some not so animated, some way too perfect looking and some weird ones too. Greer himself has a surrogate, which looks like a de-aged version of Willis; younger, wearing a wig and sporting a super smooth face. Kudos to the CGI team for making all the surrogates look very convincing.

Willis once again uses his great screen presence to ground the film and give it the right emotional core, and at the same time be the action hero. Rosamund Pike, who plays his wife, finally found a role that was tailor made for her singular facial expression. But at least this time, there are a couple of moments where she has the chance to unplug and emote, and we get to see her all messed up, which is a nice change. Cromwell and Rhames, who plays The Prophet, leader of the Dreads, are wasted here though.

One of the drawbacks of Surrogates, is the ending. It's too perfect, and predictable. In a film like this, you'd hope to see more arguments about the influence of technology on our lives, and we get some of it, in a form of a subplot involving Greer's damaged relationship with his wife, who is plugged 24/7. But a little more time spent on this would help give this film a bit more weight. In the end, it's just another action sci-fi that just falls short of other similar themed films like I, Robot and Minority Report.

A nice way to spend 88 minutes, but don't expect brain food. (3.5/5)


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