Director: Pete Travis
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Domhnall Gleeson, Warrick Grier, Langley Kirkwood
MPAA Rating: (for strong bloody violence, language, drug use and some sexual content)
Running Time: 1:35
Release Date: 9/21/12
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 20, 2012
It would hardly be fair to condemn Dredd for its unyielding violence or to decry its excessive amounts of blood and gore. First of all, when stripped of its dystopian backdrop and simplistic plot (both of which constitute the movie's more redemptive features), the almost non-stop hail of bullets and red stuff are really all the movie has to offer. As such, we are left with no other choice but to confront the carnage head-on and determine not what sights of gunfire and bloodshed are on screen but how director Pete Travis presents them.
That leads to the second point of contention to a reactionary argument against the violence: Dredd doesn't glorify it. There is something of a conscience to be found within this authoritarian world where one man or woman with a title, a helmet that covers his or her face in a manner similar to an executioner's hood, and a gun with multiple options for ammunition can administer whatever justice he or she deems necessary. One simply has to wade through a lot of slaughter—both of the indiscriminate (the myriad shootouts, acts of torture, and murders perpetrated by the villains) and questionably selective (the on-the-spot execution performed by the heroes) variety—to uncover it.
On one level, we appreciate that the screenplay by Alex Garland has some scruples about not only this totalitarian system of justice but also the cycle of violence it might help perpetuate. On another, though, it is relatively unnecessary; the movie inadvertently serves as its own critique of its bloated violence simply by way of making it about as joyless as possible.
Set years after a nuclear war in the vast metropolis of Mega-City One, which spreads from Boston to Washington, D.C., the movie follows Judge Dredd (Karl Urban, who does the best he can with curt dialogue and acting only with his jaw), one of the elite law enforcement officers who serve as judge, jury, and, in some cases, executioner in an effort to hold back the rampant crime that has taken over the city—about 17,000 reported incidents each day. Outside the walls of Mega-City One is a sprawling desert; the nuclear fallout doesn't exactly help the real estate value.
Dredd's modus operandi comes across in the opening sequence, as he pursues a van of drug users that eventually hits and kills a pedestrian. After shooting the van with his high-tech motorcycle, he chases down the sole survivor, who in apparent desperation has killed even more people. The standoff, with the fugitive holding a hostage and Dredd giving him an ultimatum (life in cryogenic sleep without parole or death), results in Dredd firing an incendiary round into the perpetrator's mouth; the results are as unpleasant as one might imagine.
Equally repulsive is a scene that follows soon after at a "mega-block," a 200-story tenement complex that takes up an entire city block, where Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the ruthless criminal leader of the place, orders that some other drug dealers who have invaded her turf be dropped from the top floor. Travis' camera holds on the ground below, as each body impacts in an explosion of viscera (Later, a similar death plays out with the camera looking up through the floor).
The triple homicide brings Dredd and a new recruit named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who has psychic abilities, to investigate. Ma-Ma doesn't take kindly to their involvement, especially when they capture Kay (Wood Harris), one of her right-hand men who knows about her involvement in the distribution of a new drug called "Slo-Mo" (The effects are self-explanatory). She locks down the building and announces the judges' presence within it, ordering that her gang kill them both.
Once the plot proper begins, the violence becomes more straightforward (This is either for better or for worse, depending on one's disgust/admiration for inventive visions of killing), save for a few slow-motion shots that show in very digital detail bullets ripping through flesh. Those occasional subjective sequences representing the "Slo-Mo"-induced perspective really only serve to show off the movie's special effects; a side effect is that they impede the movie's otherwise solid rhythm (The sparkly aesthetic of the sequences also highlights how drab Anthony Dod Mantle's oversaturated digital cinematography is).
The structure is ridiculously simple: Dredd and Anderson run through the building, encounter Ma-Ma's gang, and then continue to run or hide as necessary. The minimal variation comes from whatever weapons or ammunition the judges use to take down their hunters, from blinding them with a grenade that broadcasts Dredd's warnings to setting them on fire with explosives (and, of course, lots of regular old bullets). Ma-Ma's methods are worse, naturally, having her men fire miniguns without discretion at a section of the building, leading to countless innocent casualties.
It's repetitive, to say the least, and whatever point the movie has to its violence—aside from its existence for its own sake—is lost in the wanton destruction. Dredd might not glorify its violence, but the movie does come close to fetishizing it, which is discomforting in its own way.
Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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