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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF Blu-ray Review: LAW ABIDING CITIZEN



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#1 of 34 Michael Reuben

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Posted February 14 2010 - 08:25 AM


 Law Abiding Citizen (Blu-ray)
 
 
Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Rated: NR/R
Film Length: 118/109 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish
MSRP: $39.98
Disc Format: 2 50GB
Package: Keepcase
Theatrical Release Date: Oct. 16, 2009
Blu-ray Release Date: Feb. 16, 2010
 
 
 
Introduction:
 
Rated at number 7 on Stephen King’s list of 2009's best films, Law Abiding Citizen comes to Blu-ray in a two-disc set that includes the theatrical and the unrated director’s cut on separate discs. The director’s cut is a Blu-ray exclusive. Critics hated the film (with Roger Ebert an exception), just as they hated Dirty Harry and Death Wish. King, ever the populist mythmaker, was a much better barometer of audience response. The film did well at the box office, and I suspect it will do well on home video.
 
 
 
The Feature:
 
After suffering a horrific home invasion robbery, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) seeks justice from the courts, but the office of the Philaldelphia district attorney lets him down. A hotshot young assistant D.A., Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), lets one of the miscreants take a plea bargain in exchange for testimony against his partner. The partner, Ames (Josh Stewart), gets the death penalty, while the turncoat, Darby (Christian Stolte), gets five years. “Some justice is better than no justice”, Rice tells a distraught Shelton. Meanwhile, Rice’s boss, Jonas Cantrell (the ever reliable Bruce McGill), tells Rice to finish the case and move on.
 
Time passes. Nick Rice settles into a good career and a comfortable life as a family man with a wife (Regina Hall) and daughter (Emerald-Angel Young). At work he enjoys the confidence of Cantrell and the loyalty of a junior prosecutor, Sarah (Leslie Bibb). Everything is proceeding normally.
 
Then Nick goes to witness the execution of Ames in the Shelton case, and all hell breaks loose.
 
At this point, I’ve given away less of the plot than the film’s trailer, and I’m leaving it there. Law Abiding Citizen is the latest entry in a genre of vigilante films that goes back at least as far as 1974's Death Wish (though I’d argue they go back even further), and part of the genre’s appeal is that the essential arc is simple and predictably satisfying: A lone figure betrayed by the system takes it upon himself to become the avenger of justice. The extra spin added by Law Abiding Citizen is that Clyde Shelton is much more than the mild-mannered family man he first appears to be (then again, so was Paul Kersey in Death Wish). It turns out these robbers really did pick the wrong house. They attacked the family of a man who’s equal parts Tony Stark, Jack Bauer and Jigsaw. When Shelton exacts his revenge, it’s methodical, thorough and gruesome.
 
It’s a mistake to watch a film like Law Abiding Citizen looking for realism. A vigilante film is about the satisfaction of seeing the wicked get punished, and if it’s done well, the narrative resonates at an almost mythic level. Law Abiding Citizen is very well done, because, while it’s piling up the body count at a satisfying rate, it also keeps you guessing about how Shelton is accomplishing his vendettas. When the full explanation is finally revealed, you can pick it apart all you want, but so what? You’ve already been suckered into enjoying all those righteously meted out deaths, and now you’re complicit in the film’s moral agenda. The film has had its way with you, and you enjoyed it.
 
The director of Law Abiding Citizen is F. Gary Gray, who has a good track record with action and suspense films such as Set It Off, The Negotiator and the remake of The Italian Job. (When he tried his hand at light comedy in Be Cool, the results were a misfire.) Gray and his producers assembled a cast of unusual depth for what, in some quarters, must have been viewed as an exploitation film.
 
Gerard Butler, who is also one of the film’s producers, was originally slated to play Nick Rice, the plea-bargaining D.A. But for reasons discussed in the disc’s extras, he ended up taking the role of the avenging Shelton, and he gives the character the kind of operatic scale that you’d expect from the actor who created King Leonidas in 300. Butler’s Shelton is a man whose loss is palpable and whose satisfaction in his revenge floods the screen. Butler is well-paired against the Nick Rice created by Jamie Foxx, who is able to convey Nick’s slickness and ambition but also navigate the tricky turn in the later half of the film as Nick gradually realizes just how badly he screwed up when he plea-bargained the Shelton case.
 
In addition to the previously mentioned Bruce McGill and Leslie Bibb in the D.A.’s office, the sturdy supporting cast includes Colm Meaney, turning in another of his consistently great performances, this time as an old-school Philadelphia cop who’s torn between wanting to take Shelton down and enjoying watching him give slick Nick a well-deserved comeuppance. Richard Portnow, who was terrific as a sleazy defense attorney on The Sopranos, plays another one here. Gregory Itzin, who will always be known for his duplicitous President Logan on 24, plays an S.O.B. of a prison warden. And in a performance that gives the film a late jolt just when most films need one, Oscar nominee Viola Davis (Doubt) commands the screen as Philadelphia’s mayor, who strides in demanding to know how the hell her top city officials managed to make such a mess of things.
 
The director’s cut of the film is nine minutes longer, and the additions are spread throughout the movie. Some moments had to be cut to obtain an R rating from the MPAA, but others are extensions of scenes that allow for greater exploration of character. Unlike many director’s cuts, where the restored material causes the pacing to go slack, this one never loses its tension. Indeed, the theatrical cut feels almost abrupt at points, and I recommend sticking with the director’s cut. (It’s not clear to me why the two versions could not have been placed on the same disc, but maybe the additions were so numerous that programming them for seamless branching became prohibitively complicated.)
 
 
Video:
 
For both cuts of the film, Anchor Bay has presented a nicely rendered transfer that aptly conveys the film’s stylized look. Law Abiding Citizen was shot in a manner that its producers characterize as contemporary film noir. With the exception of a few domestic scenes, its palette is cold, harsh and blue. (The cold is literal; most of the film was shot during winter in real locations, and you can see the actors’ breath in many scenes, even indoors.) The Blu-ray has good black levels, which are essential for reproducing the huge shadows with which cinematographer Jonathan Sela filled the various interiors. Detail is sometimes “blown out” by the harshness of the lighting, but all the detail that’s there is well reproduced on the disc. If any noise reduction was applied outside the digital intermediate phase, I couldn’t detect it.
 
 
 
Audio:
 
The TrueHD track gives you all the heavy sound effects you’d expect from a mix for a recent film that features helicopters, gunfire, explosions and the occasional power tool. Despite Shelton’s impressive achievements as a revenge killer, Law Abiding Citizen is not primarily an action film. Its tension comes from anticipation as people talk to each other; the soundtrack’s most important job is to convey that dialogue clearly, along with a general sense of environment, and the track does that effectively, with powerful bass extension where it’s needed. The foreboding score by Brian Tyler, whose resume includes Eagle Eye and several Fast and Furious films, is also well-presented.
 
 
 
Special Features:
 
Commentary by Producers Lucas Foster and Alan Siegel (theatrical cut only). Foster and Siegel chat continuously throughout the running time of the theatrical cut on disc 2, and their conversation contains substantial information about the film’s development and production. These were “hands on” producers who remained involved throughout shooting and post-production; so their knowledge is detailed and significant. They get carried away during the credit sequence, when they start thanking every name that scrolls by as if accepting an award, but overall it’s a track worth listening to.
 
The Justice of Law Abiding Citizen (HD) (6:15). Interviews with prosecutors and defense attorneys on the legal issues presented in the film. It’s basic and probably won’t teach viewers anything they don’t already know.
 
Law in Black and White: Behind the Scenes (SD; 16:9 widescreen) (15:06). Interviews and on-set footage about the making of the film. As the title suggests, this featurette is in black-and-white, although there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it.
 
Preliminary Arguments - Visual Effects Progressives (SD; 16:9 widescreen) (6:46). A series of effects breakdowns narrated by producer Lucas Foster.
 
The Verdict - Winning Trailer Mash-Up (SD; 16:9 widescreen) (1:05). The title of this special feature is a mystery, and no explanation is provided. It’s not a finished trailer. It’s not even professional-looking. The cuts are abrupt, and the video shows severe combing. But it does look like a “rough draft” of a trailer.
 
Trailers. The film’s trailer is included as a separate extra. At startup, disc 1 (the unrated directors’s cut) plays trailers for The Crazies, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Captalism: A Love Story and the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand; these can be skipped with the chapter forward button and are separately available from the features menu.
 
 
 
In Conclusion:
 
For me the seminal vigilante film will always be the original Dirty Harry, because, even though Harry Callahan is a cop, what he learns during the course of the film is that justice and the law have parted ways. “The law is crazy!” Harry yells at the city D.A., and at the end of the film, he tosses away his badge. (He only got a new one when sequels beckoned.) I still remember how appalled critics were and how people I knew – thoughtful people, people whose views I respected – opined with great intensity on how the film was a thinly veiled political statement directed at current events, and wasn’t it offensive?
 
Almost forty years later, the vigilante film is still alive and well, and the latest one was made by people who were barely walking when Harry Callahan first drew his Magnum. The sense that there’s a justice truer than the court system goes deeper than any particular set of current events, and clearly it’s lost none of its power to elicit a reaction from an audience that’s almost primal. Maybe someday a much smarter person than me will write a sociological history of vigilante films as they’ve evolved over time and explain how the changes reflect what was happening in the world in each era. In the meantime, take Stephen King’s advice and enjoy Law Abiding Citizen.
 
 
 
Equipment used for this review:
 
Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (TrueHD decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
SVS SB12-Plus sub

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#2 of 34 TonyD

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Posted February 14 2010 - 10:59 AM

I liked it, just finished the blu-ray and watching the extras.
Doesn't hurt that it was filmed in Philly so I was able to notice a lot of very familiar locations including Holmesburg Prison which can be seen from the highway while driving through Philly on I-95.

I was also lucky enough to be at City Hall while a scene was being shot outside of City Hall and took a few pictures of things around the set.

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#3 of 34 Mike Frezon

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Posted February 14 2010 - 11:11 AM

This has been recommended to me by a number of acquaintances, so I will be definitely giving it a try.

Thanks for the review, Michael.  This is a rather mainstream title for you to be reviewing, eh?!?  /img/vbsmilies/htf/wink.gif

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#4 of 34 Michael Reuben

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Posted February 14 2010 - 04:22 PM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Frezon 

This is a rather mainstream title for you to be reviewing, eh?!?  /img/vbsmilies/htf/wink.gif
 
I guess it depends on your definition of "mainstream". This wasn't produced by a major studio; so in that sense, it's far less "mainstream" than Drop Zone or Hard Rain or even Mystic River. I suppose it's "mainstream" if you think of genre pictures that way, but I've reviewed my share of genre pictures (e.g., Pandorum, also made outside the studios and released by Anchor Bay).
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#5 of 34 TonyD

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Posted February 14 2010 - 04:36 PM

http://share.shutter...0AcM2zdy4aNWTjg

thats the album of pics mostly just chairs and a couple cameras outside of City Hall.

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#6 of 34 Adam Gregorich

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Posted February 14 2010 - 04:53 PM

Michael- I'll have to check this one out.  Tony- Thanks for sharing the pics!

#7 of 34 Aaron Silverman

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Posted February 18 2010 - 08:48 AM

I had some issues with a kinda similar film, Taken -- without getting into spoilers, I'm curious whether this movie would rub me wrong in the same way.  I'll use the spoiler tag for those who haven't seen Taken:
I was totally turned off when Liam Neeson started abusing innocents along with the bad guys.  Especially when he shot the French guy's wife.  (Talk about a WTF moment!)  Does Jamie Foxx stick to punishing the guilty in this one?

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#8 of 34 Michael Reuben

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Posted February 18 2010 - 09:48 AM

First of all, I wouldn't call Taken a similar film.

Second, you have the characters switched. Jamie Foxx doesn't play the vigilante.
Third, it depends on your point of view. Shelton takes the position that no one he targets is innocent. His position is extreme, but it isn't frivolous.

And finally, my guess is that, if you feel the need to satisfy these kinds of concerns in advance, you probably won't enjoy the film.
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#9 of 34 Robert Crawford

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Posted February 18 2010 - 09:51 AM

I agree with Michael, this film isn't similar to Taken and I don't think you'll enjoy this film.





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#10 of 34 Aaron Silverman

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Posted February 19 2010 - 07:25 AM

OK, now you guys have me curious.  :)

Just to be clear --

It's not that I'd have an issue with the *character's* intentions; it's the film's portrayal that I'm wondering about.  For example, if Shelton starts blasting bystanders, but Rice is trying to stop that and the film makes him the hero, that's perfectly fine with me.  In Taken it felt like you were supposed to root for the hero while he was shooting people other than the bad guys.
At any rate, I'm not squeamish; just curious.


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#11 of 34 George_W_K

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Posted February 19 2010 - 08:04 AM

I watched the Director's Cut of this in the hopes that I would somehow like the ending better than I did in the theater, but alas it still was very disappointing to me.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, but the ending is a big letdown.  I didn't expect a different ending, just thought maybe things would have lead up to it better for me. 

Anchor Bay did a nice job on this disc and I'm happy with the purchase.  :)


#12 of 34 Michael Reuben

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Posted February 19 2010 - 09:23 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Aaron Silverman 

OK, now you guys have me curious.  :)

Just to be clear --

It's not that I'd have an issue with the *character's* intentions; it's the film's portrayal that I'm wondering about.  For example, if Shelton starts blasting bystanders, but Rice is trying to stop that and the film makes him the hero, that's perfectly fine with me.  In Taken it felt like you were supposed to root for the hero while he was shooting people other than the bad guys.
At any rate, I'm not squeamish; just curious.

 
I try to write reviews without spoilers. Let me put it this way:

Everyone that Shelton targets, he targets for a reason. Are the reasons always good enough? Well, that's the whole point of the film. A moment comes where his reasons no longer seem sufficient to anyone but Shelton, but that moment will vary from viewer to viewer. It varied within my own home, where my wife and I disagreed (and debated at length) about when Shelton crosses the line. So, end of the day, I can't predict with any confidence how another viewer will react.

I still don't think Taken is an apt comparison, but since you brought it up, I have to tell you:
I had zero problem with the French spy's wife getting shot. She wasn't a random bystander, and Mills didn't kill her. Besides, it's her husband's fault. He put her in the line of fire by taking pay-offs from white slavers and lying to his old comrade, to whom he owed at least a soupçon of loyalty.

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#13 of 34 TonyD

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Posted February 19 2010 - 09:54 AM

I'm not sure who we are supposed to consider the hero in Citizen.

At the video store were I work many people are comparing this to Taken or at least saying if you liked Tken you'll like Citizen.

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#14 of 34 Robert Crawford

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Posted February 19 2010 - 09:57 AM

Jeez, I have to echo Michael's comments again including his opinion about Taken./img/vbsmilies/htf/smile.gif





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#15 of 34 Robert Crawford

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Posted February 19 2010 - 09:59 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by TonyD 

I'm not sure who we are supposed to consider the hero in Citizen.

At the video store were I work many people are comparing this to Taken or at least saying if you liked Tken you'll like Citizen.
 
I think by the end of the film, Rice becomes a changed person and therefore, becomes a hero.






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#16 of 34 Scott Wong

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Posted February 21 2010 - 05:52 AM

I've not yet seen the director's cut... but I really liked the theatrical release.  :)

#17 of 34 Adam Gregorich

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Posted February 21 2010 - 06:08 AM

Count me in the agree with Michael (and Crawdaddy) about taken catagory--spoioler comment included.  I still need to see this movie. 

#18 of 34 Adam Gregorich

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Posted February 21 2010 - 06:11 AM

Damn you all! /img/vbsmilies/htf/smiley_wink.gif I pulled the trigger as its still on sale at Amazon.

#19 of 34 Adam Gregorich

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Posted February 25 2010 - 09:09 AM

In the middle of watching.
Quote:
That's what a wrench is for...
/img/vbsmilies/htf/laugh.gif

#20 of 34 Adam Gregorich

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Posted June 13 2010 - 03:40 AM

This is on sale this week for $9.99 at Target and Amazon







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