Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dredd review

    "In case you have forgotten, this block operates under the same rules as the rest of the city. Ma-Ma is not the law... I am the law."

    Dredd is a great, fun movie.

    Don't get me wrong, it's not going to change cinema the way Alien or Bladerunner did but it might actually be as good as the original Verhoeven Robocop film. That's pretty high praise and a statement this movie managed to actually get a sense of dystopia done right. It is a action-filled, violent, and intense film which doesn't let up until it finishes. What's really impressive about this movie is it managed to make its relatively low budget go pretty far too.

Olivia Thirlby's Anderson is lovely.
    For those unfamiliar with Judge Dredd or (even worse) familiar only with the character from Stallone movie; he's a police officer in a giant post-apocalyptic city where he has authority to arrest, sentence, or execute any criminals he comes across in the course of his duty. Karl Urban plays the character as seriously as Christian Bale's Batman even though he's a character who is meant to be a juggernaut of police brutality.

    The premise of Dredd is nicely simple, brought on by the movie's budget. Judge Dredd and his new partner, psychic Cassandra Anderson, are called in to investigate a trio of brutal murders at a gigantic "mega-block" which is the center for a massive drug-distribution center. Imprisoned when the drug-cartel (led by Lena Headey's "Ma-Ma") seals off the building, they have to fight their way through an army of thugs.

    It's a premise which has been repeatedly compared to The Raid: Redemption but emerged independently or as a result of The Raid actually taking the plot while it was in script-development. I haven't seen The Raid so I don't know and don't particularly care. All I know is Dredd stands on its own and deserves a sequel despite its comparatively low ticket sales. People should really pick this one up on DVD and I rarely say that.

Dredd is...Dredd.
    As mentioned, the highlight of the movie is definitely Karl Urban's minimalist take on Judge Dredd. He has half of his face covered the entire film and has to portray a semi-invincible avatar of justice but, nevertheless, manages to bring a surprising amount of depth to Joe Dredd. He's about 80% rage and focus but there's a 20% of something else--which is just about right for Judge Dredd.

     Olivia Thirlby's Anderson is a much more nuanced character, reflecting a "normal" person's reaction to the authoritarian brutality of the Judge system while simultaneously being exposed to the kind of urban jungle which necessitates its existence. She goes through a lengthy character arc whose end result is not really a surprise but has some twists along the way. She's also beautiful, which I certainly approve of.

    Lena Headey's Ma-Ma is an excellent villain to put against Judge Dredd. Whereas other films might have chosen Rico (*cough*) or Judge Death, this movie nicely realizes you only need a suitably potent criminal to oppose Judge Dredd. Ma-Ma is sleazy, disgusting, and evil beyond reckoning. In many ways, I prefer this kind of diametric opposite relationship versus a corrupt judge or regime.

It'll take more than a prominent scar and a bad haircut to make Lena Headey ugly.
     There's not many other characters of note in the work, which is appropriate since this is a character piece on Anderson and Dredd. Ma-Ma, in a very real way, is the shark our heroes are hunting. The other characters live in abject fear of her or have become corrupted by her presence. Yet, at the end of the day, she's just another criminal to Judge Dredd. No more dangerous than any other. You could call this "A Day in the Life of Judge Dredd" and it would be a perfectly accurate summation.

     The special effects are minimalistic with the drug "Slo-Mo" inducing slow-motion action that the movie uses as excuses to have bloodthirsty executions. The set design and exterior shots of Mega City One are all beautiful, visual storytelling being used to illustrate what sort of world Judge Dredd lives in. Some bits are a little too violent and the dreary set-design could be improved in places but, otherwise, it's quite interesting.

     I think my favorite special effects were only the screen for a short while. Rather than create Mega City One out of a matte painting or CGI, they actually just digitally inserted the Mega Blocks (super-skyscraper apartments) and super-highways into the skyline of real-life New York. That was genius since it makes Mega City One feel a great deal more like it takes place in "our world" despite the massive nuclear desert just outside the city's walls.

    In conclusion, this is a good-good movie. There's satire, action, well-crafted characters, and a simple premise one doesn't have to work hard to appreciate but doesn't talk down to you either. Go out and get the DVD, you won't be disappointed.


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