An assault on the dirty justice system

2009-11-09 00:00

A HOME invasion, two murders, a plea bargain. Just another day at the office for Nick Rice, a Philadelphia prosecutor, played by Jamie Foxx. The victims are the wife and daughter of Clyde Shelton, who spends 10 years putting in place all the pieces of what he intends to be revenge on a grand scale. In the beginning, he looks like an ordinary citizen, but it slowly emerges that he’s a type of Geek Rambo specialising in hi-tech assassinations at the behest of what one presumes must be the CIA or somesuch.

His vengeance is at first directed at his family’s killers, one of whom is on his way to being executed, the other now free as a result of shopping his less culpable accomplice in exchange for an easy sentence. Then the noose gets tighter and and the people around Rice start becoming targets.

The twist is that Shelton gets caught immediately and yet the trail of retribution continues even though he appears safely locked up in his cell. It’s a great trick while it lasts, but when the grand plan is exposed it’s a very flimsy one on which to hang what is in effect a full-scale assault on the American system of justice.

Shelton takes the moral line, that everyone must be accountable, regardless. Rice’s line is the pragmatic one: keep the queue moving, and it’s not what is right, but what you can prove in court. In other words, Rice needs to be taught a lesson.

But the side of righteousness doesn’t stay fixed. As the plot twists and turns, and the two protagonists expose more and more of themselves, the balance of morality shifts uncomfortably. This is especially the case once the killers who started the whole process are despatched. With them out of the way, the audience’s bloodlust is sated, and the final build-up, while still engrossing, is more of a game that has to play itself out. And the conclusion, as the ironic title gives away from the outset, is that justice is a dirty business that the law is poorly equipped for. ***

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