Review: Dredd 3D (TIFF 2012)
PLOT: In the dystopian metropolis of Mega City One, law is enforced by the judges, a police force that serves as judge, jury and executioner. Of the judges, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is a legend. He's assigned a young trainee, the telepathic Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby)- and on a routine assignment to a city slum- they find themselves trapped in a building ruled by a vicious drug lord, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey)- who puts the building in lock-down, and orders the judges killed.
REVIEW: Do yourself a favour and forget all about Danny Cannon's notorious 1995 film version of JUDGE DREDD, which infamously starred Sylvester Stallone, and eliminated virtually everything about the character that made him a comic book icon in Britain during the late-seventies/eighties. In fact, I'd hesitate to even call DREDD 3D a reboot as literally nothing from the old film is carried over. Instead, this is a gritty, contained take on the character that could potentially launch an excellent new action franchise for leading man Karl Urban, who makes an ideal Judge Dredd, adopting a laconic growl and style that's way more reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry than Sly.
Directed by Pete Travis, who- in addition to VANTAGE POINT is known for his hard-hitting, politically-tinged docudramas (OMAGH and ENDGAME), DREDD inherits the social commentary of the comic it's based on, with this world- which resembles the modern ghetto projects of the US, and the UK- in the same way that the comics were a reaction to Thatcher-era Britain of their time.
Always a borderline fascist character, in the hands of Travis and writer/producer Alex Garland (28 DAYS LATER)- this big-screen version of DREDD is an absolutely merciless crime-fighter, less interested in protecting the public than punishing anyone who crosses his path. Urban, who never removes his helmet- plays him as an unstoppable killing machine, without mercy or fear. To me, he seems to be a perfect match to the character- without the movie-star baggage that an icon like Stallone brought to the part. Dredd has to be a bit ambiguous, and if Urban continues in the role, I could easily see them taking the character into an even grayer zone than they do here.
As a contrast to Urban's vicious Dredd, we get Thirlby's empathetic Anderson, who questions DREDD's occasional cruelty and tries to inject some compassion into her work. Thirlby brings a warm energy to the part that works well for the character. I also really like Lena Headey in a stark departure from her usual parts and the scarred, sadistic Ma-Ma. In a nice touch, Headey avoids chewing the scenery, and instead underplays the part somewhat, which is unusual, but extremely effective.
Social commentary, ambiguity, and even acting aside- the real question here is still whether or not DREDD delivers as an action film. While the premise is admittedly very similar to THE RAID, DREDD is satisfying on its own merits, with it being loaded to the gills with firefights, pyrotechnics, and surprisingly effective use of 3D- especially when illustrating the effects of Headey's “slo-mo” drug, which slows perception down to 1% of it's normal speed. In fact, the use of slo-mo is some of the action scenes even gives DREDD a tinge of the avant-garde, although it's not overused enough to be either pretentious or tiresome.
Running a lean ninety minutes, DREDD is a contained piece of work- with a minimum of exposition, and a maximum of carnage. Like the comics, DREDD is ultraviolent, with the gore being ramped up to such an extreme level that it becomes satirical (similar to Paul Verhoven's ROBOCOP), and feels appropriate and ballsy. Everything in DREDD is kept tight, and it moves at lightning speed, being driven along by a propulsive techno score by Paul Leonard-Morgan, who does the same thing here he did with his score to LIMITLESS last year.
Hopefully, DREDD will find it's audience once it hits theatres at the end of the month, as the Judge Dredd universe is one that could easily sustain a whole series of movies. Watching DREDD, it's obvious that the essential ingredients to a worthy franchise are here, and I'd be very happy to see a DREDD 2 before long.