I mentioned in my Total Recall review that the future is going to bleak according to any modern science fiction film. That movie, however, has nothing on Dredd. In this futuristic story, there isn’t even a rich district; everyone is screwed. In the aftermath of nuclear war (what else?), much of America has been joined into one huge settlement called Mega City One. The metropolis is composed of destitute slums and massive complexes towering hundreds of stories high. The city is in chaos, with over 17,000 crimes reported every day. In response to the violence, the Hall of Justice has been created. In this Hall resides Judges: specialized police officers with the power of judge, jury, and executioner. In other words, they can sentence and execute perps on the spot. In other other words: hell, yeah.
One of the most badass of all of these Judges, Dredd (Karl Urban) is unswerving in his obedience to the law and the ferocity with which he dispenses justice. That’s why he’s irritated to have to drag around the rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who barely passed her entrance exam yet is imbued with powerful mind-reading abilities. For their first assignment, the Judges must investigate a triple homicide at a complex headed by the vicious crimelord Ma-Ma (a terrifyingly villainous Lena Headey), who controls a new drug known as Slo-Mo, which makes the world move at slow motion (Wow, no shit. Why did I just explain that?). Dredd and Anderson have to fight their way to the top of the locked down complex to kill Ma-Ma.
This movie is great. Though featuring a plot similar to The Raid: Redemption, it carves its own niche with effectively brutal action, creative kills, a tight script that doesn’t waste any dialogue, and strong direction from Pete Travi. It’s all a very exciting affair, even when bullets aren’t flying, and you really get the feeling that the Judges are rats in a trap, though they refuse to go down without a fight. It creates a great sense of push-and-pull tension in which the Judges have nowhere to go, yet they are far from helpless. It’s also important to note that Paul Leonard-Morgan’s soundtrack is the perfect supplement to the concussive violence. Blending grinding synth with pounding percussion and electric guitars, the soundtrack thunders through the bones and really boosts the adrenaline of the action at hand.
Visually, it also shines. The movie juxtaposes the bleak future, shocking violence, and beautiful slow motion in a way that hasn’t really been done before. One character’s death is excruciatingly drawn out in slow-motion but given a peaceful beauty at the same time. The 3D is, remarkably, extremely well-done; it gives depth to the wide shots and even has some stuff fly out of the screen. One of the best shots was a massive, blossoming 3D explosion of blood that appeared to move past the letterbox “black bars” on the screen. Maybe I was imaging it, but either way everything about this movie from a visual standpoint is a labor of love.
TOUCH THE DREDD
And damn is Karl Urban perfect for the role of the helmeted Dredd. With the top half of his face obscured for the entirety of the movie and a scowl perpetually glued to his mug, Urban is pure, unfiltered badass with a healthy dose of Eastwood-style grit. He snarls his way through lines such as “Judgement time” or “I am the law.” The movie also occasionally dips into 90s one-liners, but they almost always come out of nowhere and make for a pleasant surprise without being overused. Best of all, instead of chuckling at Stallone’s ludicrous line delivery, when Urban says something, you believe it. You know that if you so much as look at this Dredd wrong, he will END YOUR SHIT.
Dredd is awesome. It is exceedingly difficult to find fault in the film because it does mostly everything so damn well. At its core, this is a hardcore action movie and that’s it. Much of what makes Dredd great is that while it bucks the trend of a melancholy hero on a journey of self-discovery, the rest of the film doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. There is one small “twist” that doesn’t really have a huge effect on the story, but everything else is straightforward. That may be the crux of the film’s entertainment value—while it offers nothing in the way of wild new ideas or inventive story beats, it hurtles forward as a muscular, brutal action flick, and pulls it off with huge helpings of talent. Sometimes, that’s all you need. In the case of Dredd, it has turned the movie into what is arguably the year’s best action picture.
Better than this.
Take a Drink: every time Dredd says something badass.
Take a Drink: whenever someone is killed while under the influence of Slo-Mo.
Take a Drink: for every unique way that someone dies.
Take a Drink: every time the words “judgement”, “law”, or “sentencing” are used.