Law Abiding Citizen

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Law Abiding Citizen
Two men, one looking to the right. Below another man looking to the left.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Produced by
Written by Kurt Wimmer
Music by Brian Tyler
Cinematography Jonathan Sela
Edited by Tariq Anwar
The Film Department
Distributed by Overture Films
Release date(s)
  • October 16, 2009 (2009-10-16)
Running time 108 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $53 million[1]
Box office $126,690,726[2]

Law Abiding Citizen is a 2009 American thriller film directed by F. Gary Gray from a screenplay written by Kurt Wimmer and stars Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler. The film takes place in Philadelphia and tells the story of a man driven to commit multiple murders while targeting not only his family's killer but also a corrupt criminal justice system. Law Abiding Citizen was released theatrically in North America on October 16, 2009.[3]

The film was nominated for a Saturn Award as the Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film of the year, but lost to Inglourious Basterds, and the film also garnered NAACP Image Awards nominations for both Jamie Foxx (Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture) and F. Gary Gray (Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture).[4]


In a 1999 Philadelphia home invasion, Clarence James Darby (Christian Stolte) and his accomplice Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart) kill the wife and daughter of Clyde Alexander Shelton (Gerard Butler) before his eyes. Prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) is unable to use DNA hard evidence to securely convict both accused. Unwilling to take a chance on lowering his high conviction rate, he makes a deal with Darby, letting him plead guilty to a lesser charge and receive a reduced sentence in return for testifying against Ames. Ames is found guilty and is sentenced to death. Darby is released after a few years. Shelton feels betrayed by Rice's actions and by the justice system in general.

Ten years later, Ames's time on death row is up. Unknown to the prosecutors and the witnesses, the cardiotoxic drug usually used in executions has been replaced with an anticonvulsant, causing Ames to die an extremely painful death. Evidence relating to tampering with the drug implicates Darby. An anonymous caller alerts Darby as the police draw near, and directs him to a remote location. Shelton, disguised as a cop, reveals himself as the caller and paralyzes Darby with puffer fish venom. He straps Darby to a table and slowly dismembers him as revenge for murdering his wife and daughter, videorecording the gory proceedings. When Darby's remains are found, circumstantial evidence tentatively ties his death to Shelton. Despite knowing the evidence is weak, Shelton surrenders himself into police custody, where he points out the flaws in Rice's case against him. Shelton tells Rice he will give a full and real confession if Rice will get a couple of things for him; the first is to get Shelton a new bed for his cell.

As he leaves the interrogation room, Rice receives a phone call from his wife, and learns that Shelton had sent a copy of the snuff film of Darby's demise to his house, traumatizing his daughter. He initially refuses to bargain with Shelton in order to get a confession. But District Attorney Jonas Cantrell (Bruce McGill) orders Rice to make a deal, so Rice gets Shelton a new bed. In court, Shelton represents himself. He successfully argues that he should be granted bail, then berates the judge for accepting the "bullshit" legal precedents he himself cited and for being too eager to let madmen and murderers back on the street. The judge jails Shelton for contempt of court.

Shelton demands a porterhouse steak lunch be delivered to his cell by a specific time, in return for telling where to find Darby's lawyer, who was reported missing three days earlier. Rice agrees, though the lunch is delayed by a few minutes due to the warden's pedantic security measures. Once he has his meal, Shelton provides a set of coordinates, where Rice and the others find Darby's lawyer, buried alive but suffocated when his air supply ran out while Shelton's lunch was being delayed. Shelton invites his cellmate to join him in his steak meal, which turns out to be the cellmate's last meal, as Shelton then stabs the cellmate in the neck using the steak's bone, killing him. Upon discovery of the murder, the warden moves Shelton into solitary confinement.

Cantrell arranges a meeting with a CIA contact and brings Rice. They learn that Shelton has previously worked with the agency, creating devices to assassinate people in imaginative ways, such as a necktie that kept getting tighter when it was tied, thus strangling the victim. Further, they are warned that Shelton is capable of killing anyone he wishes, no matter where he is. During a meeting with Rice and Cantrell, the judge is killed when she answers her cell phone and it explodes. Shelton demands Rice to drop all charges against him or more people will die. A number of Rice's assistants are killed by car bombs, one of them Sarah Lowell (Leslie Bibb). As Rice and Cantrell leave the funeral of Lowell, Cantrell is killed by a weaponized bomb disposal robot. The mayor (Viola Davis) puts the city under lockdown and promotes Rice to acting District Attorney.

Rice learns that Shelton owns an auto garage next to the prison. A tunnel from the garage leads to a cache of guns, disguises, and other equipment below the solitary confinement cells, and secret entrances to each cell. He and Police Detective Dunnigan (Colm Meaney) realize Shelton wanted to be in solitary, allowing him to easily leave the prison without detection and commit the murders. Evidence in the tunnel points Rice to Shelton's next target, city hall, where the mayor is holding an emergency meeting with city officials. Rice and his men cannot find Shelton, but discover evidence pointing to a cell-phone-activated suitcase bomb in the room directly below the meeting.

Shelton returns to his garage after planting the city hall bomb, then returns to his cell. He is surprised to find Rice waiting for him. Rice berates Shelton for taking revenge because of the pain he suffered. Shelton suggests another deal, but Rice refuses this time, saying that he does not make deals with murderers anymore, and thanks Shelton for teaching him that. Rice and Dunnigan secure Shelton in the cell and leave. Despite being pleased that Rice had finally learned his lesson, Shelton dials the cell phone on the city hall bomb. Shelton realizes too late that Rice has moved the bomb to his cell and the cell's entrance to the tunnel has been sealed. Shelton looks upon his daughter's bracelet with a sense of sadness, accepting his fate as the bomb explodes.



Filming began in August 2008 and took place in and around Philadelphia. Filming locations included Philadelphia's City Hall and the old Eastern State Penitentiary.

The film was edited after being threatened with an NC-17 rating for violence,[5] with the full version released unrated on Blu-ray.


The score to Law Abiding Citizen was composed by Brian Tyler, who recorded his score with a 52-piece ensemble of the Hollywood Studio Symphony at the Sony Scoring Stage with help from Kieron Charlesworth.[6] The movie also uses "Eminence Front" by The Who and "Engine No. 9" by Deftones on Clyde's iPod while he is eating his steak in his cell. While Clyde calls Darby to help him 'escape' the police after Ames' execution, "Bloodline" by Slayer is Darby's ringer. The tune at the end for closing credits is "Sin's A Good Man's Brother" by Grand Funk Railroad.


The film was released theatrically on October 16, 2009.[7] The first theatrical trailer was released on August 14, 2009 and was attached to District 9.[8]

The premiere was held on November 15, 2009 at the Cineworld complex in Glasgow - hometown of Gerard Butler. Many British tabloids have labeled this event as the "Homecoming Premiere", in reference to the Homecoming Scotland celebrations.[9]


The film took second place in its opening weekend, with $21,039,502, behind Where the Wild Things Are. It went on to gross $126.6 million total worldwide.[10]

Law Abiding Citizen received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 25% score, with an average rating of 4.3/10 based on 155 reviews. The site's critical consensus states that "Unnecessarily violent and unflinchingly absurd, Law Abiding Citizen is plagued by subpar acting and a story that defies reason." [11]

In his review for the Chicago Sun Times, Roger Ebert said, "Law Abiding Citizen is the kind of movie you will like more at the time than in retrospect." He then went on to say, "Still, there's something to be said for a movie you like well enough at the time." Ebert rated the film 3 out of 4 stars.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Distribution: A Love Story". Screen Daily. 2009-10-08. 
  2. ^ "Law Abiding Citizen (2009)". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  3. ^ "Law Abiding Citizen". Retrieved July 29, 2009. 
  4. ^ Awards for Law Abiding Citizen at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ "Law Abiding Citizen - Gerard Butler interview". IndieLondon. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  6. ^ Dan Goldwasser (September 11, 2009). "Brian Tyler scores Law Abiding Citizen". Retrieved September 11, 2009. 
  7. ^ "Exclusive Clip, Contest for LAW ABIDING CITIZEN!". Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  8. ^ "The Film Stage". The Film Stage. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  9. ^ "Exclusive: Scots star Gerard Butler ready for homecoming premiere - and hitting 40". The Daily Record. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  10. ^ "Law Abiding Citizen (2009)". Box Office Mojo. 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Roger Ebert

External links[edit]