Though the film hasn’t made megabucks elsewhere in the world, Dredd is certainly worth your time. Based on the ‘2000 AD’ comic, Alex Garland’s script sees Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), totally committed yet unsympathetic law enforcer in a future dystopia, going up against a gang leader who rules from the top of a 200 storey tower block.
The story is eerily similar to The Raid (Serbuan Maut) which was released in Australia back in March, but Dredd succeeds where that film failed. Against all odds, Urban actually manages to provide the film with some charisma even though he spends the entire film with his face obscured by his helmet. Like Hugo Weaving in V for Vendetta, his performance is all in the voice, and to top it all off, he’s saddled with a restrictive gruff monotone.
With a lead character like Dredd, the film is only as successful as the sidekick, and thankfully Olivia Thirlby is on fine form as a trainee ‘judge’, Anderson. Thirlby is an actress that never fails to impress. Even in sub-par films such as The Darkest Hour, she’s never less then 100 per cent convincing, and here even sidesteps into an action role effortlessly. The villain of the piece, ex-prostitute turned gang leader Ma-Ma, is played by Lena Headey who, as we all know by now, is phenomenal in everything she touches.
Though it only has a tiny budget in comparison to your average comic book movie, Dredd looks and sounds fantastic. Mega City One is splendidly realised and the sets look sufficiently decrepit. The visual effects are top notch – they certainly got value for money – and the 3D is particularly effective. Much has been said about the way in which the drug-induced hallucinations made good use of the 3D technology, but for the rest of the time the effect is classy but unobtrusive, never getting carried away by jabbing things in the viewer’s face.
Paul Leonard-Morgan’s soundtrack is great – a mix of throbbing early 80s synths and guitars – and is more than a match for Geoff Barrow’s and Ben Salisbury’s ‘Drokk’ album, which was inspired by the same comic and released earlier this year.
Dredd is a suitably grim film, though strangely enough the violence never got too much. Though I wouldn’t suggest taking kids along to see the film, the gorier moments were suitably contextual and served a point, rather than attempting to simply gross out the audience. I haven’t read much of the comics but I understand that they have a bit more a satirical edge that is missing from the film. The deadly serious tone borders on relentless, only letting the occasional humorous line slip in. It’s definitely at pains to distance itself from Stallone’s Judge Dredd, which featured a comedic sidekick in the form of – shudder – Rob Schneider.
For those growing tired of Hollywood setting its sights on younger audiences (driving many adults to the increasingly intelligent big budget drama now filling our TV screens), this is the mature comic book movie you’ve been waiting for. With its wonderfully constrained narrative and stunning vision of a future society in decay, Dredd is a violent and blisteringly compelling piece of dark science fiction. One can only hope that it gets the sequel it deserves.Rating: