Review: DREDD (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Review: DREDD (2012)


Mention the word "Dredd" or "Judge Dredd", that Stallone's embarrassingly awful movie instantly comes to mind. For decades (17 years, to be exact), no other studios has dared to resurrect the franchise ever since until a new development has finally seen the light of its day when it was first announced on 20 December 2008 as an independent movie project. At the first glance, I was skeptical for the new "Judge Dredd" movie, titled as DREDD, when the studio (DNA Films) hired director Pete Travis (2009's VANTAGE POINT) to helm the project. After all, Pete Travis isn't the kind of name that immediately springs to mind for to take over such a beloved comic-book character. But thankfully, Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland has (mostly) succeeded what Stallone has failed back in 1995 -- they get the somber brutality tone right. Just like the comic book itself, DREDD is undeniably gritty and ultra-violent sci-fi actioner that will surely please a lot of fanboys and like-minded audiences who prefers their R-rated genre movie.

At the beginning of the movie, we learn that the future America is reduced to an irradiated wasteland known as the "Cursed Earth". The only place inhabitable located on the east coast of North America called "Mega-City One" -- a vast metropolis that housed 800 million residents and patrolled by members of an all-powerful police force (judge, jury and executioner) known as Judges. These Judges are bestowed with responsibility of executing life-or-death sentence immediately at the scene of a crime. Among the famous Judges of all, is the hard-edged lawman named Judge Dredd (Karl Urban). He is tasked by Chief Judge (Rakie Ayola) to evaluate rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), an Academy underachiever who has an amazing ability of psychic power.

When Dredd and Cassandra chooses to investigate a triple-homicide in a high-rise building, they find themselves engaging against a ruthless drug lord nicknamed Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a former prostitute who rules with an iron fist over the 200-storey slum tower block known as "Peach Trees". They also subsequently discover that the three dead bodies are actually being skinned alive before infused by Slo-Mo -- an addictive drug capable of slowing the user's perception of time to 1% -- before being thrown off from the top of the tower. They proceed to investigate the case further, and arrest Kay (Wood Harris), one of Ma-Ma's henchmen, after Anderson psychically detects his involvement with the murders. Before they even manage to remove Kay out of the tower for interrogation, Ma-Ma orders her men to seize the tower's security control room and seal the place using its blast shields under the pretense of a security test. With no way out, the two Judges are trapped inside without outside help and they're on their own. As Ma-Ma demands both Judges to be killed, they have no choice but to fight back all the way up.

If the story sounds familiar, it is because Alex Garland's script has (coincidentally -- or is it?) shared the similarity of this year's Indonesian action hit, THE RAID: REDEMPTION. But unlike that movie, the pace in DREDD is surprisingly erratic, especially given its DIE HARD-like premise. Whereas the movie is supposed to be a straightforward and fast-paced actioner, Garland has thrown a lot of fats inside his threadbare script that constantly ruins the momentum.

Still, the movie remains entertaining enough, thanks to Karl Urban's perfectly-minimalistic portrayal as Judge Dredd. Unlike Stallone's awkward performance which borderlines into self-parody, Urban spends all the time acting behind his ever-present helmet (at last!). It's really a tough act, but Urban manages to pull it off with genuine flair. His blunt charisma and deadpan humor makes him a perfect Judge Dredd character that reminds me of Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" and "Dirty Harry" character. Elsewhere, Olivia Thirlby, who is primarily known for her acting work in indie movies, fares equally well as Cassandra. She's a perfect balance against the emotionless Judge Dredd, and she also convincing during some of her action-packed moments. However, Lena Headey is quite disappointing as the supposedly vicious Ma-Ma. Sure, she has the ugly scar in her face that makes her intimidating but her portrayal is somewhat undermined. Her final scene, where she confronts Judge Dredd at the top of the tower, is especially a letdown. Considering in the earlier movie where she is depicted how ruthless she is, it's a surprise the way she chooses to fight against Judge Dredd, is -- anticlimactic.

On the technical level, the movie is top-notch. Even though it's only blessed with a modest $45 million budget, Travis manages to deliver enough memorable visual feast here to satisfy the genre fans. The "Slo-Mo" sequences are especially eye-catching -- e.g. Bullet tears through the faces, blood burst from the wound, and water droplets suspended in the air -- all beautifully executed in balletic slow-motion. Imagine Sam Peckinpah or John Woo, but further enhanced in a precision level, you'll get the idea. Thanks to the surrealistic touch by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, those sequences are truly a sight to behold. Production designer Mark Digby also does a good job on creating the grungy feel of the 200-storey "Peach Trees" tower block. The action, in the meantime, are well-executed that doesn't skimps on gore and violence. Not to forget also, is Paul Leonard-Morgan's throbbing and addictive electronic score that perfectly accompanied the grungy tone of the movie.

Overall, it's a huge relief that DREDD is a good, if not perfect antidote that erases the painful memory of Stallone's poor version. A few setbacks aside, I sure hope that Garland's intended trilogy will come true if this first movie manages to make enough money at the box office.

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