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A Look At "Neo-Noir" Philadelphia
A quintessentially urban story, Law Abiding Citizen needed the backdrop of a great American city for its intricately woven tale. Originally set in Los Angeles, the events of the story took on special significance when the setting was changed to Philadelphia. "It was a very specific choice on our part,” says producer Lucas Foster. "It's the seat of English common law in America. The Founding Fathers spent a lot of time there. This movie is all about justice, so it made a lot of sense for us to come to the place where a lot of these issues were first considered.” 

The city offered the filmmakers several unique attributes, says Foster. "It has amazing architecture. It feels big, but not impersonal. It feels like a place where you know you can get a little bit lost. 

"It was also important to us to have a place that was graphically stark and unusual,” he adds. "We're calling the look of this movie ‘neo-noir.' I don't think Philadelphia has ever been photographed the way we're photographing it.”

Philadelphia's iconic City Hall, whose singular silhouette has been one of the defining images of the Philadelphia skyline for more than a century, figures prominently in the action. "Philadelphia City Hall is one of the most beautiful buildings I've seen in America,” says Butler. "It has so many great views and angles that no matter where you are it looks amazing. We lit up the whole street leading down to City Hall one night and it took my breath away. 

"When you come to such a big city, you can feel that you're just going to be a drop in the ocean, but you're not in Philadelphia,” the actor says. "The city was really excited to have us here, and I was charmed by Philadelphia. I would make another movie here in a heartbeat.”

For critical scenes that take place behind prison walls, the filmmakers secured a notorious location. Holmesburg Prison was closed in 1995 after riots killed two wardens, but it may be better known as the site where infamous medical experiments were performed on prisoners. Built in 1896, and recently partially reopened to house overflow from other prisons, Holmesburg is the antithesis of a modern prison with its crumbling brick walls, archaic structures and rusting cells. 

"Holmesburg is almost medieval,” says Foster. "You're transported to another era. This movie could take place almost at any time if you didn't see modern vehicles in it. It could be a '40s movie, this could be The Big Sleep, and Holmesburg really lent itself to that timeless feeling.”  Shooting in Holmesburg proved to be a powerful experience for Butler. "We were in a functioning prison,” says the actor. "I'm not somebody who's used to jails, just as Clyde Shelton isn't. While we were filming, we'd have to stop so inmates in shackles could be led through by guards, and then we would start filming again. It was a fascinating experience, right down to the smell and the cold. The place tells a whole story unto itself.”

F. Gary Gray worked closely with the film's production designer, Alex Hajdu, to develop a signature visual style for Law Abiding Citizen that takes its inspiration from the city and reflects some of the story's complexity. "The premise of the movie dictated a unique style,” says the director. "We took some of the classic elements of film noir and introduced them into a very modern movie. We were not afraid to grab the long shadows or use high contrast. I thought that was perfect given the subject matter.” 

Philadelphia itself helped define movie's look, according to Hajdu. "I drew a sense of color and mood from the city. The architecture and scope of the buildings translated into a visual style for me. Philadelphia is fantastic in that respect. It has a lot of history and a lot of texture. Because it's an older city, it has an almost European color palette. There are a lot of brick and ea


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