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
  • 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 Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx. The film takes place in Philadelphia and tells the story of a man driven to seek justice while targeting not only his family's killer but also those who have supported 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]


In a violent home invasion, engineer Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is forced to witness the rape and murders of his wife and young daughter by cocaine addict Clarence James Darby (Christian Stolte) and his unwilling accomplice Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart). Prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) is unable to use DNA evidence (which had been contaminated by police handling) to securely convict both accused, leading to a possibility that he might lose the case should he support Clyde. Unwilling to take a chance on lowering his 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 personally committing both murders and is sentenced to death. Clyde feels betrayed by Nick's actions, as he had pleaded with him not to make the deal and to at least try to convict both of them, and because he chose to release the actual killer. Despite this, Nick reasons that some justice is better than no justice at all. Darby serves his shortened sentence and is released just a few years later much to Clyde's outrage.

Ten years after the court case, Ames is executed via lethal injection. Unknown to the prosecutors and the witnesses, the pancuronium bromide used in the execution was replaced with an unknown corrosive substance, possibly strychnine, causing Ames to convulse, hemorrhage, and die an extremely painful death much to the observers' horror. Upon inspection of the potassium chloride canister, Nick and his colleague see the words, "CAN'T FIGHT FATE" written on the label. This implicates Darby, as he had spoken the same words to Nick many years before during the home invasion trial.

As the police draw near to arrest an unsuspecting Darby, an anonymous caller alerts him and offers him a way to escape, directing him to a remote location nearby. Clyde, disguised as a cop, reveals himself as the caller and paralyzes Darby with puffer fish venom delivered via the grip of a rigged pistol. He takes Darby to an old warehouse and cuffs him to a table, while also hanging a full-length mirror above Darby to force him to watch his own brutal torture. Along with placing tourniquets on Darby and injecting him with adrenaline (to prolong the torture without interruption), Clyde then activates a video camera and proceeds to slowly dismember and castrate Darby, killing him when he is finished. When Darby's remains are found, circumstantial evidence tentatively ties his death to Clyde, as the warehouse that the murder was committed was under his name. Despite knowing the evidence is weak, Clyde surrenders himself, and points out the flaws in Nick's case against him. Additionally Nick's colleage Sarah Lowell (Leslie Bibb) isn't able to find any evidence to place Clyde anywhere in the country. Clyde, knowing Nick will need a confession, baits Nick by telling him he will give a full confession if Nick will get a new bed for his cell. Clyde references the conviction ten years ago, saying that Nick would make deals with criminals. Nick laughs at the offer and ignores Clyde.

As he leaves the interrogation room, Nick receives a phone call from his wife and learns that Clyde had sent a copy of the snuff film of Darby's murder to his house, traumatizing his young daughter. He initially refuses to bargain with Clyde in order to get a confession but District Attorney Jonas Cantrell (Bruce McGill) orders Nick to make the deal. In court, Clyde chooses to represent himself. Instead of confessing, Clyde successfully argues with strong legal context that he should be granted bail, citing weak evidence and lack of criminal record. However, after bail is granted, he suddenly berates Judge Laura Burch (Annie Corley), who presided over Darby/Ames' case, for so easily accepting the "bullshit" legal precedents he himself cited and for being too eager to let madmen and murderers back on the street. Out of anger, Burch jails Clyde for contempt of court and denies him bail.

Once in jail, Clyde gives a full confession to Nick as per their deal and then demands a porterhouse steak lunch be delivered to his cell by a specific time. Nick initially laughs this off as their earlier deal had already been done. However, Clyde reveals that he would disclose the location of Darby's lawyer Bill Reynolds, who they then discover was reported missing three days earlier. Nick agrees, though the lunch is delayed by a few minutes due to the warden's additional security measures. Once he receives his meal, Clyde provides a set of coordinates, where Nick and Detective Dunnigan (Colm Meaney) find Reynolds: buried alive in a crate but suffocated when his air supply ran out minutes earlier. Back at the jail, Clyde baits his cellmate into joining him in his meal, before stabbing him in the neck with the steak's bone and killing him. Upon discovery of the murder, the warden moves Clyde into solitary confinement.

Following a tip, Jonas arranges a meeting with a CIA contact and takes Nick along. They learn that Clyde 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 without ever being physically present. Further, they are warned that Clyde 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 Clyde 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. Nick and Jonas meet with Burch, and she agrees with their request to violate Clyde's rights. Immediately afterward, she answers a call on her cell phone, which promptly explodes against her ear and kills her. When Nick questions Clyde, he claims the murders are not about vengeance, but about the corruption of the justice system. Clyde makes one final demand that Nick drop all charges against him (before 6 AM the next day) or more people will die. When Nick again fails to meet the demand, a number of Nick's assistants are killed by car bombs; including Sarah, whose death deeply affects Nick. Nick loses his temper and punches a laughing Clyde, who then threatens to "pull the whole thing down". Nick immediately moves his family to a safe house. As Nick and Jonas leave Sarah's funeral, Jonas and several other colleagues are killed by a weaponized bomb disposal robot operated by an unseen person. The angry and frustrated Mayor April Henry (Viola Davis) puts the city under lockdown and promotes Nick, who initially tries to resign, to acting District Attorney, replacing Jonas.

While making a further background check on Clyde, Nick discovers that he used to own an auto garage less than a mile from the prison. Exploring this property, Nick and Dunnigan find an underground tunnel that leads to a cache of guns, disguises, and other equipment, right below the solitary confinement cells, indicating that Clyde has been moving freely in and out of his cell. Evidence in the tunnel points Nick to Clyde's next target—city hall—where Mayor Henry is holding an emergency meeting with all the city officials. Nick and Dunnigan don't find Clyde, but discover evidence pointing to a cellphone-activated napalm bomb in a room directly below where the meeting will take place.

Clyde returns to his cell via the garage after planting the bomb and is surprised to find Nick waiting for him. Nick pleads with him to do the right thing. Clyde says that he is doing the right thing but Nick just has to see it that way. Nick explains that it's not right to murder people and that Clyde is only causing the same pain that he is going through. Clyde sarcastically suggests another deal, but Nick states that he no longer makes deals with murderers, and that Clyde taught him that. Clyde is elated that Nick has finally understood, but despite Nick's pleas, Clyde chooses to detonate the bomb. Nick quickly leaves the cell, revealing that it was a trick; Clyde discovers the bomb handcuffed to his bed. As Clyde tries to escape out his secondary exit Dunnigan blocks it and runs through the tunnels to safety. Clyde sits on his bed pulling out his daughter's bracelet, gazing at it with a look of sadness as the bomb explodes. As it explodes Nick walks away from a safe distance both relieved and horrified by what he's done.

The last scene of the movie shows Nick attending his daughter's recital, something he had initially put off due to work, and looks on proud of her but still visibly affected by his role in killing Clyde.



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 2009 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. Critics on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave 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". In contrast, users on the site gave the film an average score of 75%.[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. Archived from the original on November 12, 2008. 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. ^ "Law Abiding Citizen - Trailer". 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. ^ "Law Abiding Citizen". 16 October 2009. 
  14. ^ Roger Ebert (14 October 2009). "Law Abiding Citizen". 

External links[edit]