- Critical Dissonance: A pretty significant one. Rotten Tomatoes lists that 26% of critics liked it (with an average rating of 4.3/10), while 75% of audience liked it. Many critics found the violence in the movie excessive and tasteless, and the story nonsensical.
- Complete Monster: Clarence Darby stands in stark contrast to the relatively sympathetic Clyde Shelton. Darby instigates Clyde's Roaring Rampage of Revenge when he and his accomplice, Rupert Ames, rob his home. Darby rapes and kills Clyde's wife before murdering their daughter, all while Ames yells at him to stop. In court, Darby lies and says Ames did it, resulting in Ames being sentenced to death while Darby get a slap on the wrist. When Clyde sabotages Ames's execution so he dies a slow and painful death and frames Darby for it, Darby chuckles when he hears about Ames's painful death on the news, and shoots at the police when they try to arrest him. He's about to murder an officer for no reason before it turns out to be Clyde in disguise, who tortures and kills Darby.
- Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy:
- This feeling hits home for viewers who become increasingly disillusioned with Clyde's actions halfway through the film. Clyde starts off as sympathetic, but he eventually becomes worse than the madman (Darby) who sparked off his rage in the first place. As for the attorneys and lawyers on the other side, they're immoral strawmen made to look as corrupt as possible, except for Sarah, who dies thanks to Clyde. When one realizes Clyde's hypocrisy reaches the level of Jigsaw it's impossible to root for anybody. See Black-and-Gray Morality.
- Also, Nick's response to his partner asking about Clyde's civil rights? "Fuck his civil rights." It's supposed to come off as awesome, but that's a really bad ideology. Although it could be written off as a rhetorical utterance than an actual violation of his civil rights. The property in question was right across the street from the prison and Clyde owned the property, so they would've had probable cause.
- Designated Hero: Nick. He lets the wrong person off the hook with a plea bargain, inadvertently making a murderer of the man whose family was killed by said person, and suffers no blowback by movie's end.
- Draco in Leather Pants: There are quite a few people who present Clyde as a hero fighting a corrupt system, ignoring that many of the people who die at Clyde's hands were simply employees doing their jobs and not actively trying to wrong him. That and he killed his cellmate simply to advance his plot. Clyde might be sympathetic, but the crimes he committed are still wrong.
- Faux Symbolism:
- The fires that surround Clyde the last moment we see him in the film before his death.
- When Sarah and the others are blown up outside the prison, Clyde is shown in priest-like black clothes and white undershirt, fingering his daughter's bracelet which resembles rosary beads.
- Hilarious in Hindsight: At one point, Bray says "spies are a dime a dozen", which was included in the trailer. This unintentionally mirrored a line from Team Fortress 2's trailer "Meet The Spy", which has the Scout saying "[Spies are] dime-a-dozen back-stabbing scumbags!" The payoff? Well, see Law Abiding Engineer.
- Jerkass Woobie:
- Clyde, he kills a lot of people, but he had his wife and daughter murdered and the main perpetrator got off with a slap on the wrist.
- Ames. Yeah, he was Darby's accomplice, but he only wanted to rob the place, he didn't want to kill anyone. Darby sold him up the river when he tried to stop him. Just before his execution, he says that he regrets ever having been there that night. The fact he died a horrible death is pretty sad.
- Magnificent Bastard: Clyde Shelton, after losing his family to the depraved Clarence Darby, schemes for years, studying law and the city to murder Darby himself, and gets arrested, conniving to pull off a series of attacks against all he holds responsible for Darby's freedom. Seeing the judicial system as inherently corrupt, Shelton holds the city in a grip of terror, making his own demands that most are powerless against, to make his statements against what he views as a corrupt system. The good guys assume Shelton saying he has all kinds of connections to hitmen who successfully kill most of his targets on his behalf is true, but in reality, he's escaping his cell and doing it all himself. Even at the end, when he realizes his life is about to end, Shelton maintains sympathy by dying in a dignified manner, only staring at a bracelet his beloved daughter made him before the end.
- Memetic Mutation: The "Law Abiding Engineer" machinima... Which works a little too well. See here (unless you happen to be from the wrong country, in which case you can't).
- Moral Event Horizon: Initially, we can sympathize with Clyde Shelton's desire to kill Clarence Darby as vengeance for killing his wife and daughter. But then there's how he goes about it: paralyzing his body, taking him to his lab, and chopping of his limbs with a chainsaw, making a video of this, and sending the video to Nick Rice. And if that wasn't enough, he murders his cellmate for no other reason then to advance The Plan. Although there are many different views, this is the most widely cited.
- Clarence Darby crosses this in the the first two minutes of the movie.
- Rooting for the Empire: Deconstructed. At the beginning one is hard-felt to not be rooting for Shelton's Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the people that wronged him and the system that deliberately let his killer go just to keep up appearances. But it slowly changes when it becomes clear how vast Shelton believes the people involved are and is ready to kill a lot of innocent people just to get his revenge.
- They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: For most of the movie, we are led to believe that Clyde is getting away with his crimes because he has someone helping him on the outside. When we find out that he has no help, and that he has a tunnel system that takes him from his solitary confinement cell to wherever he wants to go to carry out his crimes and back again before anyone notices, many thought him having a partner was better and made more sense, and this twist broke many a suspension of disbelief. If ANYONE checked up on him while he was out committing his crimes, he would have been exposed, plus it means he carried out highly elaborate and sophisticated murders, many of which required precision timing and a level of improvisation, entirely by himself, when again a partner would have been more plausible.
- Unfortunate Implications: The line "Fuck his civil rights" can really rub people the wrong way and give them the wrong impression, as it more or less implies the law is pretty corrupt and will throw ordinary people to the wolves if need be, as one review points out:"But if Law Abiding Citizen wants to be a story about an ordinary man Shelton who takes back a power he believes has been given up to those in charge Rice a power those in charge have abused, why is it ultimately espousing a route that would do nothing but give those in authority even more power over ordinary people? If Sheltons civil rights are fucked, then so are yours and mine."
- Unintentionally Sympathetic:
- Ames. Sure, he's a robber, but he still tries to save Shelton's family because Even Evil Has Standards. And yet he gets Disproportionate Retribution from both the system and Shelton (Ungrateful Bastard much?), and the movie tries to paint him as equally an Asshole Victim as Darby.
- Darby's lawyer is even more of a Designated Villain than Ames (who's actually a criminal), yet the movie tries to paint him as an Amoral Attorney who deserves to be Buried Alive.
- Ames shows clear remorse for his crimes at his execution. Also, Nick lampshades that the lawyer had a wife. Clyde killed them because they were involved in Darby escaping justice.
YMMV / Law Abiding Citizen