Saturday, 6 April 2013

Dredd (2012)

Dredd took after its title character a lot in 2012. It was a critically successful film that was part of a big trend (comic book films) that really got kind of ignored undeservedly. In a year filled already pretty filled out with The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, it's no surprise Dredd got a little overlooked.

It was an unfair fate though. Dredd is great fun, and most importantly it doesn't fuck about. I've never read a comic/graphic novel, but I do know they're often a lot darker or more "adult" than the films interpretations you get. Not Dredd. Taking the risk to embrace an 18 certificate (a move that usually means you'll take a punch right in the box office) pays off in spades.

With a brief intro we're introduced to the world of Dredd. It's post-apocalyptic. There was some sort of nuclear holocaust. Why? Doesn't matter. All you need to know is that now there's only one mega-city left on the planet. Crime is such an issue that the justice system doesn't really exist any more. The duties of the police as well as judge, jury and executioner have all been combined in the Justice Department's Judges. You mess up and one of these guys will be knocking down your door, determining your guilt and handing out your sentence then and there.

In his first real cinematic outing (we'll forget that Judge Dredd [1995] happened), the Judge (Karl Urban) is tasked with assessing the department's newest addition who is a mutant (nuclear holocaust, remember) whose only afflictions seem to be her psychic powers (Olivia Thirlby). The two turn up to a run of the mill triple homicide but find themselves engulfed by a drug baron's attempts to establish an empire. Ma-Ma (who fans of Game of Thrones will recognise as that magnificent bitch Cersei) is a formidable hooker turned violent psychopath drug lord and poses a significant threat not just to the cops but to the city as a whole with her potent new brand of drugs.

It's these drugs and the unrelenting violence that sell the film. This is an action film through and through. Dredd himself and the world he inhabits are set up to be some foreboding nightmarish warning about the police state and the effects it has on both the enforcers and the enforced, but you'll probably only think about that sort of stuff afterwards. For the 95 minutes you're watching Dredd, you're going to be pretty immersed in the breathtaking visuals. At one end there's the gritty, dirty and claustrophobic and visceral atmosphere generated by the explicit violence in the tight confines of the city's slums. And on the other, something you get less these days in action films: colour. The number of drug-induced hazes you go through in Dredd are simply breathtaking. Slow-motion, hyper saturated colour and mesmerising particles like water or blood droplets, or broken glass fill the screen to give the film a beautifully serene filter if only for a few seconds. They are transfixing.

Urban and Thirlby make a believable duo in this world of harsh crimes with even harsher policing. Urban makes a perfect Dredd: deadpan, uncompromising and harash. The lower half of his face never relents from the jaded grimace of which that internet-famous "Grumpy Cat" would be proud. Completing the good-cop harsh cop pairing, Thirlby is the much more empathetic idealist. Being able to see her entire face helps, but she exudes a genuine warmth even in the face of having to execute criminals in the street. She has to force herself to do it, where her partner has no qualms. In their sights, Lena Headey sells herself again as a hard woman no to be messed with (much in the vein of her roles in Game of Thrones and 300). The disfigured and dirty kingpin commands an army of thugs. Most of them are much larger than her physically, but even then there isn't really a question of why she's calling the shots. Cold and vicious, Headey's Ma-Ma is not one to be crossed.

Dredd manages to hit right in that sweet spot for action films. It's not completely mindless; there exists an element of subtext and a lot be thought about later on, but this in no way impinges on the action.

If you like things fuelled by violence and drugs you'll love Dredd.

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