Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Law Abiding Citizen


The events portrayed in this movie are often referred to as “Taking the law into your own hands.” I don’t think that’s accurate. When you go out to avenge some great wrong without the help of the police and the courts, you are ignoring law entirely. You become your own law, and it’s because the law did not grant you justice. Bear in mind that “law” and “justice” are two entirely different things, and often have very little to do with each other. Laws are supposed to be the same for everybody. We each have our own conception of justice, what we will settle for, and what we won’t. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t.
The granddaddy of this genre is Death Wish, where we all thrilled to the sight of a lone man challenging the entire system, killing scum like the degenerates who murdered his wife and daughter. This one also features a man whose wife and daughter were taken from him by two poster boys for retroactive abortion, but he is a lot more methodical, he takes his time. As they say, revenge is a dish best served cold. In this case it’s mighty cold indeed; ten years elapse between the murders and the man’s revenge. But it is ten years well-spent, by a man who is said to be a brilliant tactician. And as he says, his revenge will be Biblical.
One thing that often bothers me about evil genius mass murderers is, just how did they find the time to set up their insanely elaborate traps and ruses? Well, I figure that with a lot of money and ten years of thinking about nothing else, a brilliant inventor could come up with some really fine ways of getting even. He certainly does here.
Movies like this force me to face a fundamental schizophrenia on my part. The good liberal in me believes that, though our system of law is far from perfect, it also happens to be just about the best system anyone has ever come up with. No system will ever deliver justice 100% of the time; there is probably no such thing as perfect justice, so we must stumble along as best we can. I believe deeply in protecting the rights of the accused, and I support the system of appeals. There are endless things you could tweak, but not the core beliefs.
On the other hand … there is a part of me—a part of many of us, I suspect—that insists that, in some situations, nothing will do but justice. That part of me hates the exclusionary rule, Miranda, Escobedo, and 95% of defense lawyers. The rigor with which these things are enforced has sometimes (I won’t go so far as to say often) resulted in gross miscarriages of justice, whereby people who are obviously guilty of the most heinous crimes walk free.
One thing I deplore without reservation is the prosecutorial practice of cutting a deal with some of the scum of the Earth in order to convict someone else. I know that sometimes it is the only way anyone will answer for a crime, but what it boils down to is, the first one to rat gets a walk, while someone who is possibly less guilty does the time, or even rides the needle. That’s the situation here. The scumbag who actually raped and killed the daughter gets an easy sentence, while his dumb-ass accomplice gets death. And that’s when the shit hits the fan, because the execution is what the husband has been waiting for. He manages to exchange one of the solutions in the death machine for something really nasty, that causes the lesser scumbag to suffer greatly.
Confession: I liked that scene. It has always pissed me off that we spend even a freakin’ second worrying that the pinprick of the needle might give a child rapist-murderer an oowie, or that one of the solutions might give Ted Bundy a momentary discomfort on his way to Hell. Fuck him, I say. And fuck the guy who fries and burns in a faulty electric chair. I think that if we’re going to kill bad people, cruel and unusual is a damn good idea.
Again, that’s the Biblical part of me speaking. The part that enjoyed it when the husband trapped the major scumbag, tied him to a torture table, and described in loving detail the things that were going to happen to him in the next ten, twelve hours, or as long as he could manage to keep him alive as he removed his limbs and genitals and organs one piece at a time.
See, there is very short list of people whose brutal murder would impel me to “take the law into my own hands.” Nothing else would be acceptable. I’ve thought about this a lot. When I read of some innocent person tortured and killed by an animal that should have been strangled in the bassinet, I think, “What if that was someone in my family?” Would I rely on our system to give me “justice?” No, I would not, because on a personal level, the system cannot deliver justice. It’s not justice to have the animal sit comfortably on death row for 20 years, and then be put painlessly to sleep. Not in my Biblical estimate of things, it isn’t. It’s not justice for him to serve 30 years. If I was alive when he left prison, I’d be waiting there at the gate with a rifle, and I’d know how to use it. If he was going to trial and my testimony was needed to put him away, I’d refuse to testify, or do it badly. Because once he’s in prison I couldn’t get to him. That’s just me, I don’t expect you to agree. And I recognize that, sometimes, justice just can’t happen. They may never know who did it. He may be sent to prison for life, no parole, without my testimony. I can’t control that. But if I can get to the sonofabitch, I will kill him. If I could, I’d torture him first, give him at least as much suffering as he gave my loved one. I would do my best to get away with it, but if I were caught I’d plead not guilty and take my chances with a jury. Sometimes they do the right thing, in spite of the law.
That’s just something I had to get off my chest after seeing this movie. Now, as to the movie itself … In Death Wish, Charles Bronson never killed the actual murderers of his family. They were never identified. He took out his rage by becoming a vigilante, finding and executing people who richly deserved it. No trial, no sentencing; see a scumbag hurting someone, kill a scumbag hurting someone. And I have to say I respected him for that. I don’t think I’d be able to do it, but he damn sure didn’t kill any innocent person, and he cleaned up the streets just a little hit.
In Law Abiding Citizen, the man goes a lot farther than that. You’d have to say he goes crazy. He sets out to punish every person who had a hand in the miscarriage of justice ten years previously: the judge, the defense attorney, and the prosecutor who made the deal. I can’t say I wept for them, but I also don’t think it was right. In the process of his vendetta he kills many innocent people who had nothing to do with hurting him. Clearly, he’s in the wrong … and he just doesn’t care. He’s got a point to make. He’s a nut, but he does have a point. Some of it is pretty far-fetched, but … one more confession … I didn’t hate him. In fact, I was with him for a while. So sue me. I have to say that, though this isn’t a good movie, it got my Old Testament blood going.