Entertainment Film Distributors/Lionsgate
Directed by Pete Travis
Produced by Alex Garland and Andrew MacDonald
Written by Alex Garland
Based on the character “Judge Dredd” created by John Wagner and Carols Ezquerra
I miss the huge eagle shoulder emblem and that honkin’ huge chain. Really. I can understand why that shoulder emblem is impractical for police work but I still miss it. It’s the only thing I miss from 1995’s “Judge Dredd.” Well, I miss Diane Lane. And as good as he is (and he is very good) Karl Urban can’t say “I am the law!” like Sylvester Stallone (or Kelen Conley) But outside of that, fifteen minutes into DREDD I couldn’t remember anything else about that earlier movie. That’s how good a job DREDD does of giving us a version of the classic British comic book character that is far closer in spirit to the Judge Dredd we know and love.
Mega-City One is an impossibly huge city covering the East Coast of what used to be the United States with over 800 million citizens living in it. The number of violent crimes is staggering. In order to combat the crime wave, Mega-City One is policed by The Judges who fulfill the functions of both police officers and judges. Having caught a criminal, Judges are authorized to try and sentence criminals right on the spot. Cuts down on the paperwork.
It’s new Judge recruit Cassandra Anderson’s (Olivia Thirlby) first day on the job. Even though she failed several of her aptitude tests to become a Judge, she’s given a chance to prove herself due to her being an extremely powerful psychic. If she can pass her Assessment, she’ll get her badge. That’s the good news. The bad news is that she’s partnered with Judge Dredd, the toughest and most feared Judge in Mega-City One and it’s him who will have the final say if she becomes a Judge or not.
And then comes the worst news. While investigating three murders in Peach Trees, a 200 story slum tower, Dredd and Anderson arrest Kay (Wood Harris) one of the lieutenants of The Ma-Ma Clan. Run by former prostitute and now drug kingpin, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) takes control of the tower’s control room and seals off the building from the outside, trapping Dredd and Anderson inside. Ma-Ma can’t afford to let Dredd and Anderson escape as since during their investigation they found out that Peach Tree is the center of production and distribution for Slo-Mo, a highly addictive drug that slows down the user’s perception of time. On their own and cut off from back-up, Dredd and Anderson fight their way up, floor by floor to get to Ma-Ma.
DREDD is just about a perfect B-Movie. If this had been made back during the heyday of grindhouses in the 70’s and 80’s it would have run on 42end Street for a solid year. It’s gloriously violent and wallows in the violence because it’s a movie that knows full well what it is: it’s a grindhouse/exploitation B-Action Movie and it has no desire or aspirations to be anything but the best grindhouse/exploitation B-Action Movie it can be.
But there are plenty of touches here that elevate it to the top rung of B-Movies. First off, it’s a lot smarter than it has to be. It doesn’t have the satirical edge the comic strip does but it makes up for it with sharp characterization and plausible motivation. None of the characters are dumbed down so that they’ll play by the numbers. These are smart, dangerous people on both sides and they behave like it. The production is also highly unique looking. Mega-City One and Peach Tree has a look both realistic and functionally futuristic at the same time. It’s a good movie to look at just for the production design.
The movie doesn’t flinch away when it comes to the violence. Especially during gunfights which are shown from the point of view of those who have inhaled the Slo-Mo drug. Everything is then shown in slow motion. The idea is to capture the hallucinogenic feel of the drug user and the movie pulls it off in a way that I’ve really never seen before. People are getting taken out with head shots or having their guts blown into hamburger and the way it’s filmed is actually beautiful in a way.
The acting is wonderful with Karl Urban leading the way. He’s become one of my favorite actors in recent years and he gets another gold star from me for his commitment to the role. Just like the comic book character, Karl Urban’s Dredd never removes his helmet and we never see his face. Urban does all his work with his chin and his voice. He talks in a terrific pseudo-Clint Eastwood voice that isn’t exactly an imitation or impersonation but is just short of that. Urban manages to get in quite a bit of humor in a character that is essentially humorless. It cracked me up how no matter what Ma-Ma throws at them or how dire the situation got, Dredd never forgets that he’s supposed to be training Anderson and from time to time will ask her questions as if they’re in a classroom and not standing knee deep in dead bodies.
Since by his very nature we can’t get into Dredd’s head as he has no friends, no family and lives only to uphold the law we have to turn to Anderson for the movie’s emotional center and Olivia Thrilby does a better than average job of that. Anderson doesn’t wear a helmet because it would interfere with her psychic abilities so we get to see her face and the emotions at play in her as she tries her best to survive this hellish day. I really liked the adversarial relationship that develops between her and Kay as they play mind games with each other, trying to get the upper hand. Since Anderson is a psychic and can tell what others are thinking and feeling, she has to reconcile that gift with the duties a Judge must perform. Thrilby does a great job at portraying and balancing that conflict
And as one of the best bad guys I’ve seen in recent movies, Lena Headey doesn’t just take the cake. She steals the entire damn bakery. Ma-Ma is smarter, tougher and more sadistic than any man that works for her and Headey dives into the role with manic glee. Out of everybody in the wonderful cast she looks like she’s having the most fun.
So should you see DREDD? If you haven’t yet then you absolutely should set aside time for DREDD. It’s a perfect Saturday afternoon movie, with impeccable casting and told in a direct, straightforward, pedal-to-the-metal manner. I had a great time watching it and I think you will as well. Just one little warning: the language in this movie is not for those of you with soft ears or gentle sensibilities and the violence is not for kids or those of you who don’t like violent movies. It grinds my grits when people watch R rated movies and spend the whole time complaining about the language, sex and/or violence. The movie rating is there for a reason and DREDD more than earns it’s R rating so don’t say you weren’t told.