Directed by Pete Travis
Screenplay by Alex Garland
Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey
How long is Dredd 3D? 95 minutes.
What is Dredd 3D rated? R for strong bloody violence, language, drug use and some sexual content.
A surprisingly fun bit of the ol’ ultra-violence.
Please forgive the crassness because there is no more eloquent way to say it: Dredd 3D is just badass. In an era of cinema when every comic book adaptation or Hollywood blockbuster is practically indistinguishable from one another, Dredd sets itself apart from the deluge of mediocrity by gambling on the unique vision of director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland. Thankfully, that gamble pays off.
In the future, America has degenerated into a vast wasteland of nothingness save for a few “megacities” that encompass the remaining entrails of civilization (if you can call it that). Mega City One stretches along the East Coast from what used to be Boston to Washington, D.C. This sprawling metropolis is overrun with crime and poverty, with giant monoliths rising out of the chaos and freckling the otherwise familiar landscape. The Halls of Justice is the sole protector of the law, meting out punishment through its army of Judges — men and women who act as judge, jury and executioner.
Mega City One’s most loyal and brutal Judge is Dredd (Karl Urban), a man whose allegiance to the law and the Halls of Justice is unquestioned. Tasked with performing a field evaluation of a rookie Judge named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), Dredd takes his assignment reluctantly. He is not fully comfortable with Anderson’s mutant ability of being able to read minds, a result of being born near the wall that protects the inhabitants from the deadly environment which lies outside the city.
The two set out to investigate a triple homicide at the notorious Peach Trees slum, a 200-story city unto itself that is under the control of a drug lord named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the sole producer and distributor of the new designer drug called SLO-MO. Ma-Ma is a ruthless and erratic tyrant who has no qualms about indiscriminate killing or torture. When one of her foot soldiers, Kay (Wood Harris), is captured by Dredd and Anderson to be taken in for questioning, Ma-Ma knows she can’t allow her business to be exposed. She locks down the entire structure and gives the order to kill the Judges, leaving them stranded with no communication with the outside world and a limited amount of ammunition.
Screenwriter Alex Garland, who also wrote 28 Days Later… and Sunshine, is no stranger to the sci-fi genre. Taking his cue from the original comic book on which the movie is based, Garland does not waste time on advanced technology that may or may not exist in the future. His world is a dystopian future where survival is barely better than death so cool gadgets or flying cars aren’t important to this story. Almost the entire movie is set within the Peach Trees slum and Garland has clearly taken a cue from classic action movies like Die Hard on how to keep the action restricted to one location while still making it believable and engaging. It’s so very unfortunate that The Raid: Redemption was released earlier this year and had a very similar structure and storyline.
Director Pete Travis’ only notable previous work was the surprisingly complex thriller Vantage Point, so who could have guessed he was capable of such a distinctly inventive style of filmmaking. Dredd is not a pretty film. The images are intentionally dirty and grainy, giving it a real B-movie feel. Travis drains almost all of the color from the scenery, leaving a sepia-toned world that looks like everything and everyone is covered with a layer of dirt and despair.
This visual style fits in perfectly with the fact that, at its heart, Dredd is not a comic book movie, it’s a Western. Dredd is a do-gooder lawman who rides into a crime-ridden town that lives in fear of an infamous and unforgiving outlaw. Where Travis breaks from the classic Western structure is in the beautiful CGI he juxtaposes with the overall gritty look of the film. SLO-MO makes the viewer perceive the world at 1 percent of its normal speed and Travis lets the audience experience that feeling by slowing down the action so we can see bullets tearing through flesh or explosion ripping people to pieces. Think of the Marla/Tyler sex-capade in Fight Club and you’ll get a sense of what Travis brilliantly does.
Another unexpected aspect of the movie is the solid performances by the three main actors. Urban manages to convey a fully-realized character even though we see only the bottom third of his face. While his emotional performance is quite good, Dredd often sounds like either Clint Eastwood (which may be appropriate given the Western theme) or Christian Bale’s Batman. Thirlby, the last person you would expect to see in a sci-fi action/adventure, steps up to the challenge and delivers alongside Urban. The most fun to watch, though, is Headey as the cruel and unrelenting maniac Ma-Ma. Headey is typically typecast as a refined beauty (300, Game of Thrones), but here she is having a blast as a disfigured and violent psychopath.
Dredd is probably the most creative and original comic book adaptation in years and deserves to be seen on the big screen. It’s super-violent, disturbing and a whole lot of fun.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”