Nuclear fallout has reduced America to a desolate wasteland. Huge walls now encapsulate vastly overcrowded hubs full of lower-than-human life. With crime at an astounding level, and little hope of improvement, there is only one form of law and order: Judges. Holding the power of judge, jury and executioner, these Judges strike terror into criminal hearts.
Dredd follows the most feared Judge (Karl Urban) through the slums of Mega-City 1. After a series of murders linked to a new drug named Slo-Mo – as it slows perception of time to just one percent of normal speed – Dredd and psychic rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who he has been tasked with evaluating, travel to tower block ‘Peach Trees’ to investigate. Unfortunately, prostitute turned criminal lord, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), has other plans and ‘Peach Trees’ is sealed shut with the Judges inside. Now with 200 floors of murderous criminals, Dredd and Anderson have to survive by any means possible.
I imagine a film like Dredd will have the word ‘gritty’ thrown about by reviewers: “a gritty comment on society”; “dark and oh-so gritty”; “more grit than a school playground after free chocolate milk on sports day.” Though I admit that it does give an apt sense that it’s going to be rough and hard-hitting, like your dad after his second bottle of whisky, I feel that ‘gritty’ doesn’t do Dredd justice (pardon the pun). Rather I believe a more suitable adjective for Dredd is ‘jammy’, for the reason that you will see more jam coming out of the human body than a swingers party at Mr Kippling’s house.
What I’m trying to say is that this film is gory. Not gory like a bad 1930s hammer horror film, but “oh god, why is everybody’s insides made of strawberries and chicken tika masala” gory. Couple it with the director Pete Travis’ love of slow motion and you get a whole new level of brutal wonderment the likes of which hasn’t graced the silver screen since American Psycho.
Dredd starts off typically as the original film; a man of few words and even fewer emotions cleaning the streets by, ironically, making them messier with criminals’ insides. However, any comparison between the bubblegum Sly Stalone adaptation and Dredd ends there, if not for the gore then the stunning direction.
Simply put, Pete Travis knows how to direct. To be able to create a film that unashamedly stands on the line of brutality and yet never crosses over (but does piss on the other side) is a feat not to be scoffed at. Some may think the film too gory (if any men do, they are probably the type who pee sitting down) but the world Travis and writer Alex Garland have created makes it so that at no point did I feel the film is gory for gory’s sake.
… Actually, watching a man’s head explode from the inside out while his face simultaneously melts into a pool of beige goo is kind of unnecessary. Unnecessarily COOL.
I put this down mostly due to the fact the script is so well constructed. For example: it has the perfect offset of extremity and sympathy; the characters are constantly evolving, to the point that as the film progresses Dredd and Anderson almost seem to reverse roles; and finally, it leaves behind the stale movie stereotype of good cop-bad cop, opting for a more complex set of characters.
And this complexity is not shown better than in Lena Headey’s character Ma-Ma. She really does a fantastic job with the script; she’s ruthless and unforgiving. And yet at times we see that rare glimmer of vulnerability, even fear, behind her scarred face that’s there to reminds us that, while she helps creates misery, she herself was also a victim of the perpetual cycle of hatred; product of a broken city.
On the topic of acting, considering that most of Judge Dredd’s personality is his… lack of personality, Karl Urban surprisingly manages to… have a little personality. But wait, this isn’t a bad thing, instead of feeling like an emotionless, invincible cardboard cut-out with a gun strapped to its hand, he feels like an invincible cardboard cut-out with a gun strapped to its hand and maybe a little kid’s hand strapped to the other. Whether the hand would actually be attached to the kid is up for debate, however, but give Karl Urban credit where it’s due.
Though, of the two lead judges, Olivia Thirlby impresses the most. Despite a shaky start she seemed to settle into the role and has a nice amount of character progression and, surprisingly, doesn’t end up annoying like most female sidekicks. But she also teases us with her boobs. So, fuck her.
However, not all is… jammy and awesome in Dredd. Whilst the drug induced action scenes are spectacular and, as said above, very well made, I feel the drug was written in more for use as a directing technique than a legitimate plot device; sort of like saying “here guys, look at this cool thing – it’s so cool.” It’s just a bit of a null-element in the film really. For instance, if you swap Slo-Mo for any other drug in the world the film wouldn’t really change, which, considering it is the main focus of the film, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, no amount of exploding heads and flying chunks of flesh can make up for plain lazy writing.
Also, as impressive she was in Dredd, there is only so much Lena Headey can do with the character she was given. Ma-Ma just isn’t as fleshed out as I would have liked. Maybe I’m comparing her to other comic book movie villains too fervently, perhaps unfairly considering the budget, but I do feel that Ma-Ma just doesn’t have that same intelligence, even glamour if you will, as Nolan’s Batman or Favreau’s Iron Man. We are led to take her leadership and villainy at face value, rather than being able to judge it with our own eyes.
Now, I wonder whether Star Wars characters were on a drug called Screen-Wipe…