Saturday 15 September 2012

Review: Dredd

Year: 2012
Director: Pete Travis
Screenplay: Alex Garland
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey

Synopsis is here:

I didn't expect to enjoy Dredd as much as I did. In fact I didn't expect me to as much delight out of it more than the new John Hillcoat film, Lawless, which I checked out the same day. But in terms of base sensory pleasure; Dredd's clear-cut, no nonsense vibe just brought more satisfaction to the palette. I'm not a Dredd fan by any real means (I could count the amount of 2000AD comics I'd read on two hands) but I always felt that a comic like Dredd needed the right kind of adaptation if it had to be a movie.

Danny Cannon's 1995 take on Dredd, reeks of the kind of studio changes that comic book fans despise. "Hey lets have Rob Schneider as a comedy sidekick!" "You know what Dredd needs? A Love interest!" "Why don't we ever see Dredd's face? Change it!" The result was a very uninspired blockbuster which doesn't illustrate the strengths of it's director (See 1993's The Young Americans or 1998's Phoenix) and isn't too far removed from Sylvester Stallone's 1993 hit Demolition Man in terms of tone.

The retread of Dredd (despite it's production issues), delightfully eschews that an anti-hero like Dredd should be given such a broad Hollywood treatment. The film seems to understand the dystopian world-view of the comics a hell of a lot more the last outing. Mega-City 1; we are told, is a meat grinder and the film expresses this within the environment perfectly. This is a world where life isn't worth the grit off the floor. The air reeks of disorder and the presence of the judges is almost meaningless due to the overcrowded population and rampant crime. The film begins with a high octane vehicle chase on a busy urban highway. When we first see Dredd, we get the feeling that this is merely just another day. We sense this, despite only seeing Karl Urban's wasp chewing mouth. Despite the dark and dingy tone, this is where the satire of the comic lies. When death is doled out so easily and casually, you need a radical right-wing judgement system to help thin out the numbers just a little more.  

With such a system in place, you expect a lot of gun play, and Dredd has more than enough to spare. The action isn't the best I've seen this year, that goes to the likes of the similarly structured The Raid, but the films set pieces are more than effective in relation to it pulpy story. Even the liberal use of slow motion comes off as more than just a gimmicky after thought, and shows itself as a properly realised idea to help bring the vision across. The film also deserves its 18 rating as the guts and gore flow freely.

But the visceral impact of the violence is bolstered by the films economical storytelling. What we see has more impact because the efficient use of it's story. As I mentioned before, the film has similar elements to The Raid. However, Dredd's more polished use of character and plot line gives us more grip on the world at play.

It also helps that Dredd's secret weapon, lies in one of it's secondary characters. Olivia Thirlby as psychic rookie Judge Anderson, provides the moral lifting of the film. Thirlby is the perfect compassionate foil for the black and white, down the line viewpoint of Urban's Dredd. Urban is also impressive, acting with only his chin for the most part, his Clint Eastwood impersonation is reminiscent of Dirty Harry, which is of course an influence on the original comic. Urban's lesser known profile also helps get around the problem the first film had, having to balance the fact it had a bonafide action superstar to contend with (See also The Expendables). Lena Headey brings up the rear, with a formidable villain in Ma-ma. A role that could have easily been filled by an OTT character actor display. Headey brings menace with a more subdued display. Managing to command hundreds with merely a nod or a glance.

Dredd retains the pulpy roots of it's comic books, and provides 95 minutes of competent, straight edged, B-movie thrills with little of the meandering and pandering that has hampered some of the larger action films of the year. It's what I got out of it; and hopefully, the fans get that to.