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Review: Law Abiding Citizen, Remember Me and Max Manus

By April 9, 2010August 6th, 2010One Comment

Stars are import­ant. Despite their sup­posedly wan­ing influ­ence on box office (Avatar man­aged per­fectly well without a mar­quee name and Bruce Willis hasn’t car­ried a hit film in years) the cha­risma of a lead­ing man is still a key factor in how we much we enjoy our escapism.

Law Abiding Citizen posterExhibit A is the inex­plic­able suc­cess of Gerard Butler. Despite an unpleas­ant on- screen per­sona that mostly oozes bru­tish­ness and con­des­cen­sion he con­tin­ues to rate well with cer­tain tar­get mar­kets and, as a res­ult I still have to watch his films. The latest is a repel­lent revenge fantasy called Law Abiding Citizen in which Butler gets to smirk his way through sev­er­al remote-control murders while sup­posedly locked away in sol­it­ary con­fine­ment. How does he do it, we are sup­posed to ask.

Butler is Clyde Shelton, an invent­or and fam­ily man whose fam­ily is ran­domly tar­geted by two low-life home invaders. They kill his wife and child (but inex­plic­ably leave him alive as a wit­ness) but hot shot Assistant DA (Jamie Foxx) is wor­ried about his win-loss ratio and cuts a deal that saves one of the perps from Death Row. Shelton is upset about the sup­posed lack of justice and hatches an eight year plot to teach every­one involved (includ­ing the entire Philadelphia city admin­is­tra­tion and the Pennsylvania justice sys­tem) a lesson.

It turns out – hand­ily for the pre­pos­ter­ous­ness about to unfold – that he’s not just an invent­or with a couple of pat­ents, he’s a cer­ti­fied military-technology-developing killing machine. “If he wants you dead, you’re dead”, says a spook in an underpass.

Law Abiding Citizen is, of course, com­plete immor­al rub­bish mas­quer­ad­ing as some kind of modern-day mor­al­ity tale. As the ridicu­lous plot unravels, and the body count of the inno­cents grows, you are left to con­clude that every­one involved has left their human­ity behind while they go in search of the low­est com­mon denom­in­at­or pay cheque.

Butler adds noth­ing to his already fairly dis­mal cv, Foxx has noth­ing to grab hold of at all, writer Kurt Wimmer con­firms his hack cre­den­tials (The Recruit, Ultraviolet) but dir­ect­or F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) does his best to gen­er­ate some ten­sion that the film doesn’t really deserve.

Remember Me posterThe jury is still out on hot shot Robert Pattinson’s movie star cre­den­tials, although his new film Remember Me show­cases a more crumpled ver­sion of his trade­mark eyebrow-focused intens­ity. I’m still wait­ing for someone (any­one) to become the new Steve McQueen or Paul Newman and all of these beau­ti­ful boy act­ors fall so short, and devel­op so badly (think Tobey Maguire) but Pattinson might make some­thing of him­self if he can ever get some activ­ity to register behind his eyes.

Remember Me sets itself some big chal­lenges. It is set in New York in the sum­mer of 2001 and so can’t pos­sibly be about any­thing but 9/11 and yet it man­ages to tread the path to that fate­ful day quite subtly – until the end when it loses the plot and jumps right in the deep end. Pattinson is the brawl­ing, off-the-rails son of a suc­cess­ful Irish-American busi­ness­man (Pierce Brosnan). His beloved broth­er took his own life right years before and he (and the fam­ily) have nev­er got­ten over it. He falls for the daugh­ter (new­comer Emilie de Ravin) of a gruff Brooklyn cop (played by Chris Cooper) who also has a tragedy in her past.

I was all pre­pared to give this film a good review until it lost its nerve at the end and I wanted to throw things at the screen. Still, if I haven’t giv­en too much of the plot away, you might get some­thing out of it – I’m sure there is some­thing there to get.

Max Manus posterThere’s been a little flurry of European WWII movies recently, little coun­tries like Denmark (Flame and Citron) and Holland (Black Book) finally telling untold stor­ies of res­ist­ance to the Nazis. It’s the turn of Norway with the big budget Max Manus, the story of one of their greatest her­oes (played with élan by Aksel Hennie). Manus was a dash­ing res­ist­ance fight­er and saboteur whose men­tal state was ulti­mately severely dam­aged by the losses he saw and the bru­tal­ity of the fighting.

It’s totally fair enough that these stor­ies are get­ting told after all this time, although your enjoy­ment of the film will ulti­mately depend on how Norwegian you are. There’s not much there to interest the rest of us.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 17 March, 2010