Monday, April 15, 2013

Dredd (2012)

Directed by Pete Travis.
2012. Rated R, 95 minutes.
Olivia Thirlby
Lena Headey
Rakie Ayola
Warrick Grier
Domhnall Gleeson
Rachel Wood
Jason Cope

I’m quickly losing hope for the future. Yet again, Earth has become mostly an uninhabitable wasteland. The entire surviving population has been herded into what are called mega cities, large stretches of land that once included several major cities now combined into one. It’s no surprise that crime occurs at a ridiculous rate. We’re told that 17,000 offenses are reported each day. The only form of law enforcement are the judges who not only make the arrests, but carry out the sentencing as well, even if it means putting someone to death. They can only respond to about 6% of those reported crimes. We spend our day in Mega City One with Judge Dredd (Urban). He’s the most feared of all the judges and has no problem with executing baddies. That’s pretty much all we get to know about him. He’s tasked with assessing a rookie, Anderson (Thirlby) on her first day in the streets as she tags along with him. She actually failed her test to become a judge but since her psychic abilities are off the charts she’s being pushed through. The pair go to investigate a triple homicide in a 200 story building known as The Peach Trees. Wouldn't ya know it? The evil wench that runs the whole place, known as Ma Ma (Headey) doesn't take too kindly to this. She locks the whole place down and beckons every lowlife within the sound of her voice to take out the two judges. A futuristic version of The Raid: Redemption breaks out with ten times more building and ten times fewer good guys.

Okay, originality is not the strong suit of Dredd. After all, it is the second attempt at bringing this comic-book hero to the big screen. The first, made in 1995, starred Sylvester Stallone in the title role. This time around we get Karl Urban. Unlike Sly, but in keeping with the source material, we never get to see his full face. He’s meant to be an emotionless, faceless metaphor for the law itself. It works. Then again, it doesn’t. It works because he’s a perfectly stoic action-hero. We like the idea that our hero is only concerned with right and wrong with no middle ground and that is there is no offense too minor for him to prosecute. It doesn’t because it is a challenge for the audience to connect with him. He’s aloof and inaccessible  While we watch and admire his handiwork with a very special firearm, we’re not particularly moved by this guy.

To help us have someone to root for there’s Anderson. She and Ma Ma are the only characters afforded a back story. Anderson’s is much more believable. She grew up an orphan. We like orphans. She wants to become a judge because she thinks she can make a difference. We really like optimistic orphans. Plus, she does some cool things with that psychic ability I mentioned. Because she actually seems like a human being this becomes her movie despite the title. Dredd is quite literally an instrument of death with very little else to distinguish him from the weapon he carries. Anderson is much more rounded with hopes and fears we understand. Thirlby does a nice job conveying these things.

Regardless of our feelings, Dredd is really about highly stylized violence. Like a lot of action flicks, there are a lot of scenes in slow motion. However, this movie has a very good reason for this. The most popular drug in Mega City One is the aptly named slo-mo. It makes your brain feel like time has slowed down to one percent of its normal rate. This gives us cause for slow motion sequences in which we clearly see
bullets going through people’s faces and whatever other body parts get shot. These are mixed nicely with action shown at regular speed that’s no less graphic, only quicker. I was not kidding when I referenced The Raid: Redemption. This movie really does resemble that one, just trading in the martial arts for even more gunplay.

In its own right Dredd is still a solid watch, truer in spirit to its source material than the Stallone flick. The hokeyness is gone as is any hint of sexual tension between the hero and his female partner. However, it may go too far in the other direction removing almost all sense of humor, including the satire the comic is known for, in favor of relentless bloodletting. The storytelling is extremely straight forward with nary a surprise to be found. If a shoot ‘em up is what you’re looking for, a shoot ‘em up is what you’ll get.

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