Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey
Directed by Pete Travis
Since the day it was announced, I have done nothing but mock, denigrate, and predict the creative failure of Dredd 3D. This experience has taught me never to judge a book by its cover (or its production history), because Dredd 3D is a damn fine action film.
The film takes place far in the future, after an unspecified environmental disaster has forced the people of America to cram themselves in giant skyscrapers. Crimes have sky-rocketed through the roof, and the only thing keeping society together is the street judges: Armed officers that act as judge, jury, and executioner.
While Judge Dredd is testing his new partner, Anderson, in one especially downtrodden community, they manage to step on the toes of Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the local drug queen. She manages to lock them inside the giant building and puts a public bounty on their heads. The predictable bloodbath commences.
It’s a silly story in a silly world, and this movie never tries to hide it, but that works to it’s advantage. This isn’t a movie with an in-depth plot, and it realizes it. That’s not to say that it has no story, only that what it has is strategically restrained so it doesn’t get in the way of the action. In the age of the Transformers films, this shows us how an action movie needs to work. The characters are simple, but still have personalities and arcs. They are there to prop up the action, but that doesn’t mean they have to be badly written.
Playing the title role is Karl Urban, though you never see his full face. Rather then hurting the performance, though, it actually serves to enhance it, similar to Hugo Weaving’s masked role in V for Vendetta. Dredd is the cold force of the law, lacking either pity or corruption. He is the personification of blind justice. Isn’t it better that he doesn’t seem quite human? Urban manages to exude a remarkable amount of personality from a relatively one-dimensional character. Dredd undergoes only the slightest amount of stoic development, but Urban manages to make it seem like miles of change.
Relative unknown Olivia Thirlby plays Anderson, Dredd’s telepathic partner, and she's the real prize of the cast. I’m not sure how one manages to simultaneously play a character as both vulnerable and badass, but she finds a way. Her path from being a scared rookie to someone who asserts her will (in more ways than one) on others allows her to carry the plot and much of the movie, and it’s my hope that we get to see much more of her.
But the action is the real highlight, and we get plenty of it. People are shot, blown up, lit on fire, and even skinned for us to see. This movie earns it’s R-rating with flying colors. There’s almost none of the “shaky-cam” crap that so many movies engage in nowadays, and when there is it’s because the dynamics of the scene demand it. Director Pete Travis knows how to make what’s happening visually interesting. The action scenes are hard-hitting and well worth the price of admission. This is all helped by the setting, which is every bit as dirty and grimy as it needs to be interesting.
I love character-driven high art pieces as much as the next film snob, but this movie has reminded me that we should always have a movie to turn to for kick-ass action. If you’ve been missing some well-filmed slaughter in your life, this is the place to turn to. You won’t be disappointed.