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 dates
  • October 16, 2009 (2009-10-16)
Running time
118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $53 million[1]
Box office $126.7 million[2]

Law Abiding Citizen is a 2009 American crime drama 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. 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]


Philadelphia, 1999. In a violent home invasion, engineer Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is forced to witness the rape and murder of his wife and young daughter by Clarence James Darby (Christian Stolte) and his accomplice Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart). Prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) is unable to use DNA evidence to securely convict both accused. Unwilling to take a chance on lowering his high and yet unbeaten 96% conviction rate, he chooses to make a deal with Darby (the actual murderer), letting him plead guilty to a lesser charge, in return for testifying against Ames. Ames is falsely found guilty of masterminding the break-in and both murders and is sentenced to death. Shelton feels betrayed by Rice's actions, as he had pleaded with him not to make the deal and to at least try convict both of them, and because he chose to release the actual killer. Darby serves his shortened sentence and is released just a few years later.

Ten years later, Ames's time on death row is up as he continues protesting his innocence. Unknown to the prosecutors and the witnesses, the cardiotoxic drug that's usually used in executions has been replaced with another drug (Potassium bromide), causing Ames to die an extremely painful death. Evidence relating to tampering with the drug implicates his accomplice Darby. As the police draw near to arrest him, an anonymous caller alerts Darby and offers him a way to escape, directing him to a remote location nearby. Shelton, disguised as a cop, reveals himself as the caller and paralyzes Darby with puffer fish venom. He proceeds to strap Darby to a table, opposite a full-length mirror, and tortures and violently dismembers him in revenge for killing his wife and daughter, taking a video of the entire proceedings. When Darby's remains are found, circumstantial evidence tentatively ties his death to Shelton. Despite knowing the evidence is weak, Shelton surrenders himself, and points out the flaws in Rice's case against him. Shelton, knowing Rice will need a confession, baits Rice by telling him he will give a full confession if Rice will get a couple of things for him; the first being 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 brutal murder to his house, traumatizing his young 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 the deal. In court, Shelton represents himself. He successfully argues that he should be granted bail, citing weak evidence and lack of criminal record but when this is granted, he proceeds to berate 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.

Once in jail, Shelton demands a porterhouse steak lunch be delivered to his cell by a specific time, in return for disclosing where to find Darby's lawyer, who they then discover was reported missing three days earlier. Rice agrees, though the lunch is delayed by a few minutes due to the warden's security measures. Once he has his meal, Shelton provides a set of coordinates, where Rice and the others find Darby's lawyer. He was buried alive in a crate but suffocated when his air supply ran out minutes earlier. Back at the jail, Shelton invites his cellmate to join him in his meal and then kills him by stabbing him in the neck with the steak's bone. Upon discovery of the murder, the warden moves Shelton into solitary confinement.

Following a tip, Cantrell arranges a meeting with a CIA contact and takes Rice along. They learn that Shelton had in fact worked with the agency previously as a "brain"; a highly trained agent whose job was creating devices to assassinate people in imaginative ways. Further, they are warned that Shelton has no contacts but is capable of killing anyone he wishes, no matter who they are or where he is. The contact warns them that Shelton does nothing without a reason, and if he's in solitary confinement at the prison, he's there because he wants to be there, and not that they put him there. During a meeting with Rice and Cantrell, the judge who presided over Darby/Ames' case, is killed when she answers her cell phone. Shelton demands that Rice drop all charges against him (before 6 am the next day) or more people will die. When Rice again fails to meet the demands, a number of Rice's assistants are killed by car bombs; one of which is Sarah Lowell (Leslie Bibb), a loyal colleague whose death deeply affects Rice. Rice immediately moves his family to a safe house. As Rice and Cantrell leave Lowell's funeral, Cantrell is killed by a weaponized bomb disposal robot operated by an unseen person. The frustrated and ill-tempered mayor (Viola Davis) puts the city under lockdown and promotes Rice, who initially tries to resign, to acting District Attorney.

While making a further background check on Shelton, Rice discovers that he used to own an auto garage less than a mile from the prison. Exploring this property, Rice and Detective Dunnigan (Colm Meaney) find an underground tunnel that leads to a cache of guns, disguises, and other equipment, right below the solitary confinement cells. Evidence in the tunnel points Rice to Shelton's next target - city hall - where the mayor is holding an emergency meeting with all the city officials. Rice and his men can't find Shelton, but discover evidence pointing to a cellphone-activated napalm bomb in a room directly below where the meeting will take place.

Shelton returns to his cell via the garage after planting the bomb and is surprised to find Rice waiting for him. Rice states that it is the end of the road for him and he should do the right thing. Shelton says that he is doing the right thing but Rice just has to see it that way. Rice explains that it's not right to murder people and he's causing the same pain that he is going through. Shelton suggests another deal, but Rice states that he no longer makes deals with murderers, and that Shelton taught him that. Rice pleads with him not to detonate that last bomb. Shelton hesitates but operates the detonator. Rice quickly leaves the cell, revealing that it was a trick. Shelton discovers the bomb handcuffed to his bed. He sits on his bed pulling out his daughter's bracelet, gazing at it with a look of sadness as the bomb explodes.



Frank Darabont was originally attached as director, but left the project in early October 2008 over script disagreements. According to rumor, his relationship with the film's production company "ended ugly."[5]

In a reversal of their roles in the final version, Gerard Butler was initially signed on to play the prosecuting attorney, while Jamie Foxx was the criminal mastermind operating from inside prison.[6]


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,[7] 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.[8] The film 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.[9] The first theatrical trailer was released on August 14, 2009 and was attached to District 9.[10]

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.[11]


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.[12]

Law Abiding Citizen received negative 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."[13]

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.[14]

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. ^ "SHAWSHANK's Frank Darabont Quit LAW ABIDING CITIZEN!!". Ain't It Cool News. Retrieved October 11, 2008. 
  6. ^ "FOXX EARNS CITIZENSHIP WITH DARABONT". CHUD. Retrieved October 9, 2008. 
  7. ^ "Law Abiding Citizen - Gerard Butler interview". IndieLondon. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  8. ^ Dan Goldwasser (September 11, 2009). "Brian Tyler scores Law Abiding Citizen". Retrieved September 11, 2009. 
  9. ^ "Exclusive Clip, Contest for LAW ABIDING CITIZEN!". Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  10. ^ "The Film Stage". The Film Stage. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  11. ^ "Exclusive: Scots star Gerard Butler ready for homecoming premiere - and hitting 40". The Daily Record. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  12. ^ "Law Abiding Citizen (2009)". Box Office Mojo. 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Roger Ebert

External links[edit]