I’d like to say that a round of applause is needed for whoever it was that retained the integrity to resist calling this film DR3DD. Someone in a suit must have had the temptation to do so and I’m glad it was avoided. Oddly the film is referred to a Dredd 3D everywhere but the film itself doesn’t. This is one of many things about Dredd (I ain’t using the 3D either from now on) resists the temptation to do for the sake of tick boxes of nonsense in modern action films. Also, Dredd may be one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It will wash any bad taste many people will have of the Stallone film right out of your mouth. There is honestly so much to like about this film and if you click the link below I’ll tell you what they are.
I explained the setting of Dredd in the review for Judge Dredd yesterday so there’s no point me explaining the world and who the Judges are. In this film, entirely unrelated to the Stallone picture, Dredd (Karl Urban) is assigned the task of taking a rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thrilby) out on patrol for a day to assess whether she has what it takes to be a Judge. She failed the passing exam by a narrow margin but the higher ups believes she could be an asset. This is because Anderson is, as a result of being raised near the radioactive edge of Mega City One a mutant with psychic powers. As a result she can delve into the minds of criminals to assess their motives and guilt. Anderson opts to go investigate a triple homicide in a tower block called Peach Trees that houses 75,000 people and is, unknown to them at the time, also the main factory and distribution centre for a drug called Slo-Mo for the whole of Mega City One. This drug den is run by a former prostitute turned drug lord called Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and when the Judges capture one of her men she orders the entire block to be put on lock-down until someone kills the Judges.
Now the lazy critics out there will mention how this set up is similar to The Raid. Fact is Dredd was filmed quite some time before The Raid and has been in Post Production for around a year. So that’s that. The plot is essentially a night from Hell style story where Dredd and Anderson must fight their way up the 200 floors of Peach Trees, taking out anyone that gets in their way, in order to reach Ma-Ma and bring her to justice. It’s an economical setting for a film that could have easily needed the sort of bloated budgets many sci-fi movies seem to always need these days. Thing is this film was made for around $45 million but looks like it was made for twice that. There is a lot of CGI but it’s used in ways that are smart and never distracting. The section of Mega City One we see, for example, is largely just shots of Johannesburg with a few massive digital tower blocks and minor ambience effects thrown in. Most directors would read the description of the city as a future metropolis and just fill the screen with flying cars and as many buildings as the space on the screen will allow. As a result what you see looks like a massive expanse of run down slums with these monolithic towers that have clearly been built to service the rising population of a city of 800 million.
That sort of restraint is shown many times throughout the film which is becoming so rare in action movies these days. For example, the action scenes are all shot like movies should be shot. With a camera locked down or on a track. There’s barely a hint of, action cinemas laziest crutch, the shaky cam here. A lot of directors in recent years have employed excessive shaky cam to make up for a lack of intensity in their action scenes or to somehow make the audience feel they’re there in the scene whilst minimising visual feedback to the viewer. It’s lazy and overplayed and needs to stop.
Another trait that’s overplayed in films these days is excessive slow motion. Now in Dredd the Judges are fighting against a gang that develops a drug that makes them feel like the world is moving at 1% its current speed. This makes killing them pretty easy. There’s a handful of slow-mo sequences during the film but only one action sequence. This is because Pete Travis is a smart enough director to know that you shouldn’t repeat your action scenes. And he doesn’t. Each one is a different approach. We get tactical shoot-outs, stand-offs, stealthy scenes, hand to hand combat and Dredd being chased by a few thousand bullets fired by some very big guns. Each sequence is played out differently and in each we get to see just how good Dredd is.
Dredd himself isn’t thrown In here as the legend of Mega City One we usually see too. This story isn’t set at an early point in his career but you get the impression it’s the start of his legend. There’s a few moments when you can tell that the other Judges know how good he is at his job but his name isn’t one to strike fear into the hearts of every criminal in the city. I like this approach because for you as an audience member you will gradually see a hero earning the reasons for his status rather than having his status bashed over your head at every turn as it was in the 1995 film. Karl Urban does a great job playing Dredd too. He’s very much a fighter of crime in the Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry style. He doesn’t talk too much but when he does it’s either to intimidate or to dispense a little of his dry as a dust bowl wit. There is actually a fair amount of dark humour in the film too and it perfectly reflects the humour of the comics as a result.
Judge Anderson manages to be our eyes into the world. She’s lived on the streets of Mega City One but has never been out on the beat as a Judge. As such she is shown to be determined but quite afraid of what she may be asked to do. When tasked to make her first execution we see just how hard it is for her to do. Later in the film she feels the repercussions of her judgement when she meets the mother of the dead perps child which is a rare element you wouldn’t often see in films like this. Olivia Thrilby does make for a good Judge Anderson but she isn’t quite the version of Anderson from the comics. I look forward to seeing how she develops in the inevitable sequels.
Now here’s something that really shows you just how different this Dredd film is from the last. For a large portion of the film Dredd and Anderson have to cart around a perp with them who refused to confess to his crimes. Because of his refusal they can’t just execute, so they’re stuck with him. In an odd twist on the usual formula of the criminal along for the ride role previously held by Rob Frickin Schneider in the 1995 film this perp, called Kay (The Wire’s Wood Harris), shuts the hell up. I find it disturbing that it is so rare for a film these days to have character such as Kay that actually keeps quiet and doesn’t make a load of noise. I’ll try to avoid sounding racist here but, can anyone remember the last time a black man was in this sort of role and wasn’t a horrible stereotype? Remember, this film has humour, and yet writer Alex Garland and director Pete Travis managed to avoid making this guy another Chris Rock/Chris Tucker clone. Applause is needed.
The design on this film is pretty impressive too. Locations are filled with dirt and filth just like Mega City One should have. The only place in the city that seems to have ever seen a feather duster is the Hall Of Justice. Every shot and location within Peach Trees is designed and built to look like a real place on the verge of being a slum. When I first saw the designs of the Judge’s uniforms I was a little put off but they’ve really grown on me now. There’s no massive shoulder pads designed to intimidate. Instead the Judges uniform looks like practical armour for dealing with the sort of violent crime Dredd deals with every day. The Lawmaster motorcycles still aren’t massive Harley Davidsons but they do fit in with the more practical and real looking design ethic. The whole design of the city has a distinct not too distant future feel to it. The technology is there, but it’s not in your face.
Special mention needs to be made of the films score and sound design. It is excellent all around. Now I’m not a fan of Industrial style music but even I can acknowledge just how well it suits this world. Orchestral scores get used for everything these days and it’s pleasing to see a film go in an entirely different direction and avoid ever sounding like every other summer movie. The music is pounding, unrelenting and as violent as the action on screen. The action is really quite violent by the way. That slow motion action scene I mentioned earlier does some real clever stuff with the passage of time which is all synced up to the constant tempo change of some synth pop… I’ve gone and forgotten the name of… Drokk! Basically it’s a beautifully well done piece of sound editing.
Overall I really can’t fault the film too much. Dredd maybe lacks a full arc himself but he is in the film in the role of a teacher/trainer and so it’s really Anderson’s character that is under scrutiny. She definitely ends up a different person to who she started as. The fanboy in me might be a little miffed as to why Dredd didn’t bust anyone for swearing, which is outlawed in the future for all but three Judge approved words, those being Drokk, Stomm and Grud. That’s a silly gripe though. The film as a whole is balls out awesome with a thick coating of badass. It manages to bring beauty back to violence on film and shows an incredible degree of restraint in the face of modern films obsession with bells and whistles. I cannot recommend this film enough.