Law Abiding Citizen Director F. Gary Gray: 'I Never Think About Race'
F. Gary Gray's Law Abiding Citizen was a tidy hit when it came out last fall, hanging in the top ten for weeks until it made $73 million. Still, though the Jamie Foxx/Gerard Butler thriller performed well, it was hit by criticism from some outlets (including Movieline) that suggested the film had inadvertently become a right-wing revenge flick. With Citizen due for its DVD/Blu-ray release february 16, I called up Gray for his take on the controversial notion.
"It's really, really strange," said Gray, who admitted to being rattled when he first heard the accusation. "The movie has no connection to politics at all. I did hear that when I did a couple interviews, and I was like, 'Wow.' The things that people see in movies are pretty amazing to me, what they pull out of what you create...I did hear about the Republican revenge fantasy thing, and honestly, we had no intention of creating that."
Still, it's not hard to see why Republicans might claim the film as their own, as Citizen clearly sympathizes most with its ex-military antihero (Gerard Butler), who gruesomely believes in the death penalty (the new director's cut features 11 more minutes of violence), and is distrustful of lawyers and government overreaching. His adversary is the lawyer (Jamie Foxx) he plays cat and mouse with, but that character is a soft-on-crime liberal caricature who just happens to be a politically ambitious young black man. In the age of Obama, it's hard not to draw parallels -- and many did.
"Republicans thinking that it's a right-wing film that's against Obama...honestly, I gotta say that this is probably the only film that I've heard several takes where I just didn't even think at all about how certain people would read into it," said Gray, musing, "I guess it's a good thing, right, when people talk about it and think a little deeper about it? I have to be honest with you though, we never really thought about any kind of racial or political implications."
Did Gray have any qualms, I wondered, about setting up a scenario where Butler's character targets an African American mayor (Viola Davis) for assassination? In a climate where people fret over the safety of our first black president, it's hard to imagine that Gray wouldn't have reservations about such a scene.
However, the director says he approached it like any other.
"Race never even came into play," he said. "We thought we would hire the strongest candidate for the role [of the mayor], and we did. We thought it would be different. It had nothing to do with race or politics, and it's really kind of interesting that people read into it that way.
"What's really funny about it is that I never think about race," continued the director, whose other films include Friday, The Negotiator and The Italian Job. "You can look at my body of work and see that it's not about race at all. I've been very fortunate that people have given me opportunities to make different films that are mainstream, I guess you could call it."
Still, Gray hopes that his next project (likely not to be the in-development sequel to The Italian Job, he said) won't be quite as controversial. In fact, he'd like to change things up entirely. "I love genre-surfing. I'd like to do a comedy next, or sci-fi. That's what I'm in the midst of developing, so you never know."