Dredd is the best John Carpenter movie in the last twenty-plus years.
The only problem with that statement is the fact that Dredd is directed by a fellow by the name of Pete Travis. However, if the film isn’t deeply inspired to its core by films such as Escape from New York and Assault on Precinct 13, I am the proverbial monkey’s uncle. It perfectly captures that kind of post-apocalyptic thrill ride zeitgeist that Carpenter brought to just-this-side-of-respectable exploitation fare from the late 70s up through the 80s.
The story centers around Star Trek and Lord of the Rings’ Karl Urban as the eponymous Judge Dredd, taking out a new recruit (Olivia Thrilby) into the 800 million sized Mega City One (taking up nigh the entire eastern seaboard of the former U.S.) for a trial run. While out investigating a multiple homicide, the Judges stumble upon a large-scale drug operation run by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). She decides to trap the judges in her 200-floor slum-as-building, proceeding to hunt them down and protect her fledgling empire.
The uberviolent romp that follows is Die Hard in the ghetto. The destitute folks within the ironically named “Peach Tree” building hide in their homes, driven more by fear of the powerful drug lord than for their duty as citizens to help law enforcement. Yet many of them still can’t escape the crossfire as Ma-Ma gives unique meaning to the term “overkill.” What could inspire this amount of carnage and bloodshed?
The narcotic in question, Slo-Mo, makes its user feel like the world is moving at a fraction of its actual speed, leading to some neat 3D effects that seem halfway out of a hallucinogenic National Geographic documentary. Considering the darkness of the film, the 3D works surprisingly well altogether and is in the same league as Prometheus in the use of the extra dimension. Assuming you’re okay with the fact that it is being used for some pretty gory effects, because the film does not shy away from showing the insides of people being moved to the outside.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise (aside from the fact that it’s quite good, following the stinkfest that was the previous attempt to film the character) is Olivia Thrilby’s vulnerable, yet no nonsense and somewhat badass portrayal of Judge Anderson, a young woman imbued with psychic powers, having the ultimate worst first day on the job. Known almost exclusively for her role as Juno’s best friend and a few secondary roles in romantic comedies, the performances could not be more different. Hopefully it will lead to some more featured roles, because she kills it. (Literally and figuratively.)
Urban, meanwhile, gives an absolutely fantastic and egoless performance as he Boba Fett’s his way through the film, never removing his helmet. He is a pinnacle of black and white moral authority, cracking off verbal tweaks and repeating his mantras about the law.
All in all, Dredd is an absolute blast, completely eradicating the bad taste from pop culture’s mouth. If there is any real justice, Dredd will become a cult hit, playing for years on cable, midnight screenings and home ‘video.’
(Three and a half stars out of Five)