Opening 19 Nov 2009
Three minutes into the film, a mother and her daughter lie murdered in their hallway. The father, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler), witnesses the crime, but injured and left to die, cannot help. In the ensuing trial, district attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) disappoints Shelton by making compromises, hiding behind a legally gray area, and not fighting for justice. Rice says, “It’s not enough to be right; you have to prove it.” He is content with a plea bargain against one of the murderers.
Ten years later, a recovered Shelton has wisely used the time, as well as his talent and money, to construct a detailed plan of revenge. One criminal dies in agony on the electric chair. His accomplice, who got off with a light sentence after testifying against his friend, is found gruesomely dismembered. Shelton, the logical suspect, is arrested, and comes face to face, once again, with district attorney Rice, who is also on Shelton’s hit-list. Shelton’s revenge is not fulfilled with the death of two culprits; he wants to change the whole system of so-called justice and go after those who refused to uphold the law as he perceived it. Taking action becomes more difficult as Shelton, himself, is in solitary confinement. How does he do it? Does he have outside help?
Whether the citizen was law abiding is a subject for long, detailed discussions. Whether one can take the law into one’s own hands is debatable. I cheered for Shelton and wished him sweet revenge from the very first scene. On the one hand, he is a nice, shy, desperate, lonely man. On the other, he is cunning, intelligent, a lone super hero. I was quite ready to believe anything in the beginning. However, in the end, the solution became a little far-fetched, if not a disappointment; there was no winner and no laws were changed, although at first I almost believed that it might be possible. Foxx cleaned up nicely after his homeless grunge look in The Soloist. His neckties alone are worth the price of a ticket. There are beautiful scenes of Philadelphia, that cradle of American justice. Director F. Gary Gray’s prison scenes were shot in Holmesburg Prison, which had closed in 1995. Please, let’s do away with this irritating plunk-plunk kind of music and get in some good rock bands for a wild story of desperation like this one. (Becky Tan)