Monday, March 4, 2013

Dredd: A Review


I was one of the people that skipped Judge Dredd, the Sylvester Stallone bomb based on the comic book.  That being the case, I cannot say how good or bad Dredd, the second attempt at bringing this comic book character to life, measures up or down to Judge Dredd.  I, however, felt that Dredd is something I've both seen before and didn't particularly care to.

The world has been devastated by a nuclear war.  The population of the United States now has basically regrouped into one massive city, Mega-City One (covering, according to the title character's voice-over, which covers the area between Boston and Washington, D.C.  This is a dystopian world filled with crime and 96% unemployment (think Detroit).  Into this despairing world we have the Judges, men and women who not only attempt to bring law into this world but also meet out punishment to those who violate the law.  The law is extremely strict: there are many crimes punishable by death.  Law enforcement is extremely difficult, given that crime is rampant in this barely governable world (again, think Detroit).  That is why there aren't many Judges.

One of the best is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban).  He is cold, methodical, honest, devoted to the law and nothing else.  He is the best of the best, and has no time to mess around.  That being the case, he isn't too thrilled to be given not just a rookie, but one who failed to pass the Judge's exam.  However, he is informed that Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) may be a poor candidate for Judge, but she has psychic power that make her an important person.

On her first day, she and Dredd encounter a particularly violent crime in Peach Trees, a massive housing estate that is riddled with crime (think the projects gone mad).  Peach Trees is run by Ma-Ma (Lena Hedley), a former hooker now drug queen.  Her drug is the appropriately-named Slo-Mo, a drug that makes everything appear to be moving at 1% its regular speed.  The citizens of Peach Tree are under her control or influence.  To make her rule known, she has three drug dealers attempting to muscle into her territory killed by being thrown off the 500-foot structure onto the atrium.  This brings the Judges, and when Kay (Wood Harris), her henchman, is arrested in an unrelated bust, she fears Kay will tell all.

With that, she orders the Judges killed and the Peach Trees locked down. 

Now Judges Dredd and Anderson must fight their way up to Ma-Ma's lair, facing all sorts of killers.

Urban Decay
Somewhere within Dredd I think there is a good idea about the balance between justice and protection, tempering following the law with a bit of mercy.  However, I think what pushes Dredd down for me is that it does play at times like a video game, particularly whenever the Slo-Mo is used.  I figure this was done to heighten the 3-D Dredd used.  For myself, the effect was overused and used to heighten the violence Dredd indulges in.

There was an abundance of violence in Dredd, one that delighted in being particularly graphic (no pun intended).  It's understandable that the subject matter lends itself to showing great violence, but Dredd for me was quite self-indulgent. 

Now I can't say that Dredd was dreadful (again, no pun intended).  Karl Urban has the Clint Eastwood-like growl as the dispassionate Judge Dredd.  Dredd has no qualms about what he does.  He follows the law, nothing more nothing less.  He has no personality.  Dredd might as well be a machine himself, and Urban manages to give a performance without ever showing his eyes (a remarkable feat indeed).   Thrilby manages to find the only real semblance of humanity the film has.

However, I wonder whether Dredd slips into almost an endorsement of fascism: this world so overrun by violence and despair that only the tough, unfeeling, brute force of Judges can bring any semblance of order.    

In short I really didn't care much for Dredd or about him, and while the violence is a big problem for me, I found that Dredd was really bloody, violent, and uninteresting...just like the main character.


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