Film Review: Dredd

Mega-City One. 800 million residents. 17,000 crimes reported daily. The keepers of the peace are the Judges who act as judge, jury and executioner. Slo-Mo is an addictive new drug that slows the user’s perception of time to 1% of normal, and has been introduced to the city’s inhabitants. Judge Dredd, the titular character of the title, has been asked to respond to three deaths that have occurred in the 200-story slum tower block Peach Trees with his newly acquired rookie, Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a psychic who has failed the tests to become a full Judge. Dredd must evaluate her performance during their response to the deaths, and in the block they soon cross the path of drug lord Madeline Madrigal, known as Ma-Ma, played by a restrained yet menacing Lena Heady.

At a taut 95 minutes long, Dredd feels as if it has been shot in almost real time. Written by Alex Garland, the script is incredibly simplistic but is character-driven, and focuses on the actions of the characters rather than the action itself. This is a very action-packed film though, with some very interesting set pieces, and the use of slow motion photography suits the plot perfectly in capturing the feel of characters using the ‘slo-mo’ drug. When watching these scenes you really feel as if time has slowed down in a surreal manner and that you have had a personal hit of the drug yourself. Shot in 3D, these particular scenes are highly enjoyable.

The film is hyper violent and not for the faint-hearted. Although it is often stylised, there is a sense of consequence in the brutal action scenes. The look of fear in the faces of the block’s innocent inhabitants are genuinely heartbreaking as they witness the chaos that is going on around them. But despite this, the film is also very funny and has some great one-liners that support the characters. Rather than being merely 80’s style quips to try to get a laugh, they fully enhance Dredd’s character, who is a man of little words. He takes his occupation very seriously and this is the only way he can vent his frustrations in the lawlessness around him and cope with his dangerous and unforgiving job. It is all delivered with deadpan precision. Bringing a comic book character to life in a world grounded in reality is no mean feat and the costume design by Dianna Cilliers and Michael O’Connor is superb. The Judges’ outfits are both practical and believable. They haven’t been designed to look cool (even though they are) and pay tribute to the original designs by comic creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra.

Thirlby takes us on the emotional journey of Anderson’s first day on the job, and we feel for her as she tackles a genuinely heart-wrenching moment in the story. Karl Urban as Dredd gives a fantastic and nuanced performance, which is no mean feat considering we only see his lower jaw for the duration of the film. There is a Clint Eastwood ‘Dirty Harry’ vibe, which suits the character, but he makes the role his own. The use of real locations in Cape Town also adds to the futuristic look and realism, as does the excellent use of minimalistic CGI. Aside from a number of large buildings, including the Peach Trees block and Grand Hall of Justice, this reviewer found it hard to differentiate between what locations were real and which were fake.

Directed by Peter Travis, with alleged co-direction by Alex Garland, Dredd, is essentially a ‘buddy cop’ movie, and a great one at that. It’s unconventional at times in its storytelling technique, which this sub genre is associated with, and that is a refreshing surprise.

Dark, moody, ballsy and funny: this is possibly the summer sleeper hit of the year.

Dredd will be released on 25th October, 2012.

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