Friday, October 16, 2009

Gerard Butler Dirty Harry Sans Badge

Unpleasant Revenge Thriller Strains Credulity

Circumstances prevented me from atteding screenings of tbe Maurice Sendak adult/kid fantasy "Where the Wild Things Are" or the Coen brothers latest dark comedy, "A Serious Man." Bummer.
I had to settle for "A Law Abiding Citizen." Double bummer.
Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is a modern-day Dirty Harry without a policeman's badge.
Clyde is a Philadelphia tinkerer/inventor whose wife and daughter are sadistically raped and murdered in the first frames of this revenge thriller by F. Gary Gray ("The Italian Job").
As unpleasant as that is, it gets worse. The chief bad guy plea bargains and shifts the blame to his accomplice. The accomplice gets the death penalty. The real murderer gets five years.
Clyde's lawyer, the politically ambitious Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), tells Clyde that's the way it is with the American justice system.
"You can't fight fate," the real killer sneers, tauntingly.
Oh yes you can- if you are Clyde Shelton.
Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer's ("The Recruit") yarn flashes forward ten years. Clyde has been very busy. His inventions have made him millions, and he has invested that into revenge. The master plan is to take out everyone involved in the massacre of Clyde's family, starting with the gruesome torture and dismemberment of the leering killer.
I saw this film with two avid film buffs, both women. I felt embarassed that they were being subjected to the sadistic violence and gore, but they admired Butler's performance and some of the trickier intracasies of the plot.
Clyde Shelton is not a man to be admired or even liked, but with Butler's earnest portrayal of him as a kind of righteously vindictive Old Testament prophet, we almost feel we understand him. However, in the Bible in Leviticus in the Old Testament and Romans in the New, "Vengeance is mine" spoken by the Lord means that God, not people, is the ultimate judge. Revenge is never the answer, Clyde.
The intrcasies of the plot degenerate into absurdity as we discover the complexity of Clyde's schemes. Some of them are kind of cool (A cell phone that kills!). Others are patently rediculous (Tunneling into every single cell of a large prison).
Somehow it makes one yearn for the simplicity of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry.
Feeling lucky, punk?
I don't think so.

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