Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Man on Film: Dredd

First things first, I haven't seen The Raid: Redemption yet, and it's been said by some that Dredd is strikingly similar to The Raid. I was not coming into this film with that in the back of my mind. There is no standard of differentiation that I'm holding Dredd to that some others might. I can say that I've seen Judge Dredd, and while there's a certain charm to it, it is the charm of 90s action bloat and a misrepresentative dystopian vision that simply doesn't match with what the world is supposed to have become.

Dredd would appear to be everything that Judge Dredd, its predecessor in having come from the same source material only, was not. Where the first adaptation from the comic failed to capture the requisite dark tone of the post-nuclear holocaust world, director Pete Travis (Endgame, Vantage Point) and writer Alex Garland (novelist and screenwriter of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go) aptly capture the impoverishment, the filth, the violence, and the near-hopelessness. Mega-City One as realized by Travis and Co. is a dark fucking place, and what happens in this dark place is pretty goddamn sweet.

Perhaps most importantly for a film like this, the action sequences are tightly wound and crisply choreographed. The violence comes hard and fast and in such a way as to make me feel as though I had just seen the filmic realization of the best dream I have ever had. Karl Urban as Judge Dredd rumbles through this nasty hellscape stoically, not once bearing his entire face, blowing away elements of the criminal underbelly who have been ordered to take him and his ride-along trainee Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) out by overlady Ma-Ma.

Now the film's primary shortcoming is in its casting of the villain. Lena Headey simply lacks the gravitas to pull off the character, which happens to be one of my main complaints with Game of Thrones, but I digress. Luckily, there are so many thugs thrown Dredd's way that Headey's inadequacies aren't as magnified as they could have been were her character more front-and-center. Her proxies on the ground do her dirty work, her techie slave does her bidding while listening to Matt Berry's theme for Snuff Box (which at the very least means that the works of Matt Berry exist after the nuclear holocaust, making Mega-City One a place in which I'd be fine living), and her drugs breed dependency and an according mania in the people living in the tower.

Urban is perfectly serviceable, the updated performance of Peter Weller as RoboCop without the benefit of a backstory. Thirlby is the heart of the film, as Dredd is simply a conduit for law, order, and righteous destruction. Despite my hesitations about her following the abysmal Juno, Thirlby imbues the film with a vulnerability and humanity otherwise largely absent (I am not faulting the film for this, as it is due to post-apocalyptic circumstance for the most part). While supporters Wood Harris and Domhnall Gleeson stand out amongst the faces, it is Thirlby whose performance helps distinguish Dredd from the half-dozen stock post-apocalyptic tales graces the screens of the cineplexes every year.

Dredd is far from a perfect film, but it's perfectly enjoyable if you want to see body parts flying in the throes of a righteous rampage in the name of the law.

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