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A new vigilante movie made a bigger splash than expected this weekend, and I think the reasons for it are, well, timeless. “Law Abiding Citizen” hearkens back to the great vigilante renaissance of the 70’s, but really goes back to one of the biblical themes of the Old Testament. There is something about us that wants to see “an eye for an eye.” It’s gratifying. It’s fulfilling. It’s inspiring.
Or is it?
What is it in the heart of all of us that wants justice? Where does it come from, that we want what’s fair when someone or some thing really seems to have taken unfair advantage of someone else. Those who loved “Walking Tall,” “Billy Jack,” “Taxi Driver” and even “Batman” can testify to the visceral and gritty satisfaction that comes in watching “justice” being delivered on screen.
I don’t think “Law Abiding Citizen” rises to the artful level of “Dirty Harry” nor the raw brazenness of “Death Wish,” but it certainly ranks as a contender of the this decade’s Strongest Vigilante Films list.
Dennis Lim explored the topic of vigilantes in film recently in his L.A. Times blog. So did Joseph Tirella when Jodie Foster’s “The Brave One” came out awhile back. I like Steven Wyble’s list which he started last year. And Amazon.com is one of the many sites that dedicates a categorical listing to the vigilante DVDs currently available.
It was one of the most challenging requests God ever made of His people when He said that the work of avenging a wrong would be His work, not theirs. Conversely, He often instructed his Old Testament leaders to be the instruments of His vengeance. Where does that leave us?


In the end, I think The Best Vigilante Film ever made has yet to be made. I’d love to see some of the Epic Old Testament stories of when God commanded His leaders to kill thousands brought to the screen. Perhaps maybe the one event where the plunder alone amounted to “675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.” It would beg the compelling discussion about who has the right to judge, who has the right to bring wrath and how a loving God could do it.
Those questions would raise our exploration to a higher level. In the meantime, we need to settle for decent films that explore the theme, and “Law Abiding Citizen” is one of them.

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