Things I Learned from Movie X:
Law Abiding Citizen
By Edwin Davies
June 1, 2010

Oh, come on. The movie's not *that* bad.

Before reading this column, just do something for me. Turn on your television (if it's already on, turn it off then turn it on again. Or you could leave it on, but it's just more satisfying to turn a television on) and flip through the channels. Chances are that you stumbled across at least one police procedural and/or lawyer show while you were doing this. Shows in which good, decent but often flawed detectives, solve crimes and equally good, decent but often flawed lawyers help them are ten a penny on network television, and for good reason; people like the security of knowing, deep down, that if something happened to them or their family, the justice system would catch and punish the people responsible.

But what happens when the system fails - when those same cops and lawyers allow a guilty man to go free? That's the central question behind the hard-hitting exposé/in(s)ane thriller Law Abiding Citizen, in which Gerard Butler plays a man who watches as the man who killed his wife and daughter gets away with a light sentence, all thanks to some tricky legal shenanigans and the careerism of Butler's lawyer, Jamie Foxx. Butler then stages an increasingly elaborate (and increasingly illogical) revenge against the people who ruined his life, hoping to show how the judicial system fails to punish violent criminals by committing violent crimes. In doing so, the film teaches some valuable lessons about the way in which justice is (or isn't) carried out, such as:

The justice system is heavily weighed against grieving fathers

Since I've never been on a jury, all my knowledge about how the selection process works comes from the film Runaway Jury, which I'm sure is 100% accurate, despite having little in common with its predecessor, Runaway Bride. Anyway, that film taught me that the members of the jury have to say whether or not they harbor any prejudices that might color their opinion of the defendant, such as a prior relationship with the defendant, or a dislike of their race, gender, what have you. But the one prejudice you never hear about, because clearly it's so rife in the justice system, and society as a whole, as to not need vocalizing, is the average jury member's searing hatred of fathers who have just seen their young family butchered. I mean, what's not to hate about those guys? Knowing of this prejudice, Jamie Foxx, who I think is meant to be the hero, despite having no redeeming qualities whatsoever, tells Gerard Butler, playing one such grieving father (oh, how I hate them! With their impotent rage and deep, crippling sadness!) that with no DNA evidence to back up their case, Butler can't testify against the man who killed his wife and daughter, because who in their right mind would side with him over a clearly guilty man? Finally, someone takes a stand against this plague of men who have lost everything that are such a blight on society.

Eyewitness testimony is not a compelling form of evidence

In its attempts to show us the way that the law really works, Law Abiding Citizen reveals something surprising; witnessing a crime isn't useful for making a case against the perpetrators. Who knew? Aside from knowing that everyone hates Butler for having the temerity to lose his family in a vicious manner (seriously, what a tool!) Foxx's main justification for not allowing Butler on the stand is that he blacked out after witnessing it, and that the whole experience would have been so traumatic that his testimony wouldn't be believable. Now, I'm no fancy big city lawyer like Ray Charles, but that argument implies that no one who witnesses a crime can then stand up in court and provide evidence. If only he'd stayed awake throughout, or reacted impassively to everything that was going on around him, then they'd have a case.

Kids are so desensitized these days

After brutally torturing and killing the last of his family's murderers, Butler sends a recording of it to Foxx's house, where it is promptly watched by his young daughter. Then, later that evening, despite having watched a man get chopped up with a variety of tools, she's sleeping like a baby. Clearly, the reason why she watched some of the video, then cried out for her mother, was not because she was expecting something kid friendly and was terrified by what she saw, but because she was expecting Saw VI to come from Netflix and wanted to complain that they'd sent her the wrong disk.

The system works! The system is broken! The system works because it's broken!

If Law Abiding Citizen has a point - and that is a huge "if" - it's that the justice system is broken. How else could a double-murderer get a plea bargain and escape execution? Realizing this fatal flaw, Butler displays some sound, reasonable logic by concluding that the best way to expose this problem is to kill, or at least try to kill, dozens of people, many of whom were only tangentially connected to the crime. After Butler kills the two men who murdered his family, and is subsequently arrested and sent to jail while Foxx tries to prove that he did it, he then kills the defense lawyer, the judge who presided over the case, and eventually people who are only remotely connected to the initial miscarriage of justice. Butler's plan is the equivalent of trying to fix a crack in a windshield by smashing it with a sledgehammer. And, because he commits most of his crimes whilst inside his cell and there's no evidence to link him to the deaths, Foxx is forced to break the law in order to stop him, first by breaking into a warehouse Butler owns, and ultimately (SPOILER) taking a bomb Butler intended to detonate in City Hall to kill the mayor (again, someone with no connection to the crime) and hiding it in his cell, causing Butler to accidentally kill himself in the final reel of the film. The message? The system is broken, but if you just keep breaking it it'll work eventually.

Andy Dufresne may have been innocent, but he was also lazy

Warning: Major spoilers. The mystery that drives most of the film revolves around just how Butler is killing people from inside his cell. Turns out that the answer is as simple as it is stupid; during the ten years that he planned his revenge on the outside, he built a tunnel beneath the prison in which he would later be imprisoned. And it's not just a little hole in the rock either, it's an actual tunnel with load bearing beams and hundreds of lights along the ceiling. I expected a troupe of singing dwarves to show up and be revealed as Butler's jolly accomplices. If that wasn't enough, the tunnel ends in a central chamber, from which he made secret holes in every single cell in the prison, so that no matter where he was put, he'd always be able to sneak out and do some killing. This begs the question; why did it take Andy Dufresne so long to dig his way out of Shawshank? Gerard Butler managed to dig a long, structurally sound tunnel, then dig into hundreds of cells, in half the time it took Dufresne to dig one measly tunnel that only had to get him to the sewer. Makes you wonder if Dufresne really wanted to get of prison at all if he did such a slow job of it.