I’ll tell you about the car crash later. While you’re waiting you need to go see the new Dredd movie. It’s freaking fantastic. A text book example of how to do an action movie. It’s clever. Intense. Stylized. Gruesome. The stakes never cease to escalate. And every action sequence is completely different from the one that preceded it. But despite these accomplishments the movie debuted at 6th place for its opening weekend. With a paltry 6.3 million dollar take, this movie will be seen as a failure. After a summer of endless disappointments (Spider-Man, Prometheus, Total Recall, MIB3, Bourne Legacy, Dark Knight Rises) it would be a tragedy to see this film fail.
Here’s the setup. Fucked up future. Overpopulated. Law is up held by Judges, agents that act as on the spot judge, jury, enforcer, and executioner. Baddest of the bad, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) has a new partner, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby.) Dredd and rookie wind up investigating a murder in a mega apartment complex. Investigation turns to drug bust as it turns out this mega complex (known as Peach Tree) is dominated by a drug cartel. Ruthless cartel leader Ma-Ma locks the building down, so Dredd and Anderson have to fight their way up 200 stories to get to her. Sounds like a tiresome Die-Hard right? WRONG.
Okay, at its heart it is Die-Hard. But that’s not a bad thing. The movie runs in directions that will blow your mind. First of all there is the style. Take 300 ‘s slow motion fight scenes, (with story driven causality for the slow motion) add beautiful colorization, and gut wrenching choreography, and you end up with sequences that amaze but never feels like spectacle. I was blown away and I saw it in 2D. But just when you’re thinking, “that was cool, but I don’t really wanna sit through anymore slow motion,” the film jettisons the conceit and does something completely different.
So you’re good on action. What about plot? Well the plot is solid but it’s no Nolan film. But what it does nail is setting, theme, and mood. Director Pete Travis has created a realistic albeit depressing world of the future. Violence in this city is rampant and you feel that in every facet of the movie. A lot of people knocked The Dark Knight Rises for not presenting the Gothamite’s perspective unlike the previous two films. That’s not the case here. Early in the film, victims of a crime gone wrong lie in a bloody mess. While the clean up crew mops up, an announcer informs the public “the food court will reopen in 30 minutes.” As Dredd and Anderson make their way up, you feel the terror as the residents are torn between following the law or facing the consequences of the oppressive gang. There are some really chilling moments here. And ultimately why the movie succeeds thematically is that it problematizes the notion of an absolute law that doesn’t have to answer to a further authority. But it does so with subtle nods and tension rather than having the hero make some big realization “this is wrong!”
The performances are a real joy. No villains are over the top. Lena Headey’s Ma-Ma is a smart, scary, and a lethal foil. Fans of HBO’s The Wire will recognize Wood Harris as Kay, Ma-Ma’s henchman who gets arrested and dragged along for the ride with the Judges. There’s a scene between him and Anderson that I won’t ruin here. Let’s just say it’s a scene that I didn’t expect to see in this film (in fact it was an idea I was planning on writing myself some day) and Harris and Thirlby nailed it.
As for Urban and Thirlby themselves? Karl Urban (Star Trek, Two Towers, Priest) completely disappears into the role of Dredd. At times his lines are laughable in their Clint Eastwood like depiction, but inexplicably it fits. Judge Dredd isn’t a character, he’s an icon, and that’s why we love him. Olivia Thirlby is charming, beautiful, sympathetic but at the same time challenged, smart, and goes some places that make us not like her. She’s human.
The movie isn’t a masterpiece but it does what it does very well. It’s up there with The Crow and Terminator 2 in the realm of action films. And if you know me, you’d know that’s saying a lot.
So I am asking you. Yes YOU, the reader! Go out and see it. If you don’t like it, spam me with hate mail. But give it a shot. Now watch the trailer.