'Dredd' Review – Garland’s Quest for Justice
The cliché dictates that “sometimes less is more.” If we are talking about budgets and their impact on the quality of a film, that takes full validity with Dredd.
Dredd cost a third of its 1995 predecessor, Judge Dredd. Less, in fact, if we understand that 15 years passed between each film and inflation had its impact. And yet, the reaction was virtually unanimous: Dredd is a great movie, infinitely superior to Stallone’s failed experiment.
Dredd is both a faithful adaptation of a popular comic and a film that can stand by itself. It’s a perfect story of two law enforcers entering a micro-city, 200-story slum tower block, that end up struggling to survive the spiral of violence from a hostile environment that refuses to be controlled by the state. It’s also a perfect possible arc that you could read in the original comic.
The responsible individual for this success is writer, producer, and practically co-director Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Ex Machina), who for years was looking to honor the work of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra.
To make obnoxious comparisons that better illustrate the point, Dredd looks like a hybrid between an intense police story like Training Day and the rhythm and structure of The Raid: Redemption. It’s a self-contained story, which covers a single work day in the life of Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), who in this particular mission has the responsibility of evaluating rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby).
Garland embraces and exploits the immovable trait aspect of Dredd’s character. His stoicism and hardness speak volumes at different times of the story, particularly in the end, where with a few words it’s clear that this character has come up at the other end of the journey with a slightly different mindframe.
It helps a lot that Karl Urban is perfect in this role. Focused on body language (and that of his mouth), plus his hardcore dialog deliveries done Dirty Harry-style, Urban achieves to make this block of a character a really engaging figure. Olivia Thirlby, on the other hand, carries enormous professionalism in her role as the emotional core of the tale. As a perfect complement, the proven genius Lena Headey (Ma-Ma) is a memorable, complex, and terrifying villain.
Dredd’s best thing is that all the direction’s showy resources are perfectly justified. The slow-motion shots, the lighting, the punchlines, all are cause and effect of a story that develops beautifully. Garland makes a case for each and every one of the actions, leaving nothing to coincidence or gratuitous effectiveness. It even has hidden, clever cues that deepen that idea. For example, do you think Anderson survived from that execution by the mere luck of Kay (Wood Harris) choosing that particular weapon? Think again. Rewatch the mental interrogation scene. You’ll see how she planted that idea in Kay.
What's Your Rating For Dredd?
One of Dredd’s few shortcomings is that it falls into the same puritan trap of many violent cultural products. To show gore in all its splendor while sex is mostly hidden is hypocritical. And in Dredd, sex as a power tool is a central element in the relationships between villains and heroes. However, understanding the risks of a rating that marginalized the movie even more at the box office, the cost is understandable and not lethal.
The other thing is that Dredd almost entirely ignores the satirical tone of the original comic. This translates into a film that could be perceived as an apology to the mega-police state instead of a critical piece. However, this piece of Garland’s creative freedom doesn’t taint the legacy of the movie.
It took its time, but the Judge Dredd comic finally found justice, one really deserved considering its undeniable influence on other projects (Like, for example, Robocop).
The immovable helmet carried by a confident Karl Urban is a righteous slap to Sylvester Stallone's phony blue eyed face. And in that little revenge, fans of the comic and newcomers won.
Release Year: 2012
Director(s): Pete Travis
Writer(s): Alex Garland, John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra
Actors: Karl Urban, Lena Headey, Olivia Thirlby, a.o.