Man, the future sucks. Most of the world is an irradiated wasteland. Everyone left in America lives in Mega-City One, a sprawling concrete jungle that runs from Boston to Washington, DC. Older buildings are left to decay, while super-skyscraper tenements house much of the population. There are 17,000 crimes reported in the city each day, and there is only enough manpower in the police force to respond to 6% of those calls. The police of Mega-City One are called Judges, and are allowed to act as judge, jury and executioner for any crime they come upon. Dredd is the story of just another day for one such Judge, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban).
|In the future, the police will smell all your farts and hold you accountable|
|Trust me, these civilians are not as nice as they look|
The acting in Dredd was a bit of a surprise to me, and I mean that in a good way. Karl Urban did a good job deadpanning his way through this role; this is a part that was never meant for character development, and Urban kept steady throughout the film. I was surprised that he never removed his helmet during the film, but swallowing his vanity helped keep Dredd the unemotional Dirty Harry clone that he should be. I was even more impressed by Olivia Thirlby. She had the unpleasant job of being the rookie character that is going to be squeamish and stupid and wrong all the time, and yet she was surprisingly effective at providing an emotional core to this film. I don't know if Dredd needed an emotional core, but it has one, and it was handled well. Lena Headey was also very good as the wicked Ma-Ma. Headey is becoming one of the better evil bitches in Hollywood, and she convincingly held her own in this ultra-macho action movie.
|A beautiful woman that isn't treated as a sex object in an action movie: how novel!|
Dredd was directed by Pete Travis, and it is the first film of his I've seen. He made some solid choices with Dredd. While it is tempting to show off all sorts of technology and cool stuff when making a dystopian future film, Travis wisely chose to narrow this film's focus and keep the ball rolling. The majority of the story happens inside the Peach Tree skyscraper, and the idea of the Judges being hunted by the inhabitants of Peach Tree is in place by the 30-minute mark. The rest of the movie is a firefight, and the earlier half-hour was also action-packed.
|The storyboards for this scene just read "traffic"|
|Slow-motion as part of the story? Someone needs to tell Zack Snyder!|
In a movie about police officers who are allowed and encouraged to kill criminals, the main attraction for Dredd is always going to be the action. And Dredd delivers. This is a rare beast in the modern cinema jungle: an honest-to-goodness body count movie. There are so many kills that I stopped counting within the first fifteen minutes. With so many death scenes, they are not all going to be examples of gory excess, but there are some spectacular examples of bad-ass glorification of violence. How about a slow-motion bullet to the face?
|...or, possibly, a retro advertisement for Gushers?|
|When I am police chief, we will call this ammo "default"|
Dredd probably isn't going to win over any new fans, though. The ultra-violence can be a turn-off, and there is oodles of it. There were some unexpected gems in this film, things that curious viewers will appreciate if they choose to watch. For starters, the science-fiction in this movie is handled with a soft touch. Sure, the Judges have guns that respond to voice commands, but most of the futuristic technology is subtle and left unexplained. This film hints at a world with interesting bio-implants and bizarre tattoos, but the filmmakers were content to leave those stories unexplained, as background dressing. Even more impressive was the portrayal of women. Most of the time, women in action movies are there to look pretty and (fingers crossed) find their way into various stages of undress. Not in Dredd. Both female leads are tough, strong, and essentially asexual; that works even better with Judge Dredd, because he is equally asexual.
|"I get hard for the law"|
I can't say that Dredd is exactly what it needs to be, though, even though I like a lot of things about it. There are some minor visual complaints, like the fact that it was very difficult to differentiate between Judges during a fight scene.
|At least two of these are not Karl Urban, that's all I can say for sure|
|Genuine appreciation, or does the frown show ironic approval of a bad parent? You decide.|
That's not much of a complaint, when you think about the source material. Dredd could have been utter trash. Easily. Instead, it is an unrelenting action movie with enough violence for three shoot-em-ups. There's a fine line between nonstop action and brainless blood orgy, but Dredd toes the line with style and winds up one of the year's biggest surprises.