I am usually not a huge fan of movies. Most of them seem too predictable to me – be they comedy, action, drama, and so on.
However, I can’t help but notice that while they have similar stories, they also bring us real-life perspectives that we tend not to think about for one reason or another. “Law Abiding Citizen” is a perfect example of such a movie. The U.S. legal system, though arguably the best legal system in the world, is still by far not perfect. Due to historical fear of government tyranny which led to the notion of limited government, very specific procedures are required for the prosecution (the government) to take before a verdict is announced. And to make matters even more complicated to the government, the latter is not even necessarily attainable by the government. The prosecution has to prove everything beyond reasonable doubt, which is very difficult to attain.
Such is the case with the main protagonist, Clyde Shelton, in the movie who had his house invaded by two thugs – Clarence Darby and Rupert Ames. They killed his wife and daughter and stabbed him but he survived. Later, the prosecution managed to convict both of them but sentenced one of the two to death while the other – the more active thug at the scene of the crime – was given some 10 years or so.
Bitter by the injustice, Clyde Shelton not only brutally kills the other thug but also organizes a lot of deadly actions – all of which clearly show that he was behind them, while other people were committing them for him – yet the prosecution cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt his pivotal role, let alone have him convicted and put in the death row for having contributed to the death of a huge number of completely innocent people.
There was one reason he claimed he was doing all this for – to send a message of how corrupt the U.S. legal system is, and how the defense is always able to twist everything in a way that exculpates the defendant, no matter how hard a proof there is – just like with the killings masterminded by Clyde Shelton.
This is the main point of “Law Abiding Citizen.” And while I agree with it, the movie fails to present a proper alternative to the U.S. legal system, expressed by the main protagonist. His act was no different than those condoned by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in “The Communist Manifesto” – trying to change the system by force – though the latter to had given their policy alternative, regardless of how absurd it is. This movie was nothing more than a complaint about the U.S. legal system and exclusive focus on its drawbacks – unseen in, for example, the communist legal systems in the former Eastern Bloc – yet it doesn’t go even a step further.
Having Clyde Shelton killed at the end of the movie was even more indicative of the bias discussed above. Prosecutor Nick Rice and his colleague had to break the law by invading his private property to learn more about him, which led to the trap that they set on him and led to his death.
I deem this movie a distortion of the U.S. legal system, focusing solely on its drawbacks, while not offering any policy alternatives for at least a seemingly better system, let along accounting for the drawbacks of a system where it will be easier for the government to convict defendants to harsher punishment.