I pose this question because I saw two movies tonight – this one “Dredd 3D” followed by “Housos vs Authority”. Both great films. Both completely different. Their common ground was to far exceed my expectations. To be specific for Dredd, I was anticipating some good action and an interesting sci-fi / future / wasteland story. But it was more than this. It was brilliantly immersive and entertaining.
Dredd is the second film based on the 2000 AD comic strip “Judge Dredd”. The first in 1995, a Sylvester Stallone effort was abysmal – even by the standards one usually ascribes to a Sylvester Stallone film. Notwithstanding the gravitas of Rob Schneider. This version starring Karl Urban, directed by Pete Travis and written by Alex Garland redeems the Judge’s fearsome reputation. Make no mistake.
Dredd is set in Mega-City One. Lying in the Post-apocalyptic wasteland, Mega-City One is home to “800 million people living in the ruin of the old world” according to the evocative voice-over in the trailer. A mixture of chaotic slums and evenly placed 200 story high city towers, Mega-City One is a contiguous stretch of urban blight running from Boston to Washington. Outside the walls of the city lay cursed earth – an irradiated wasteland – legacy of previous nuclear wars. Humanity’s wasteland within, nature’s wasteland without.
The crime rate within Mega-City One is overwhelming (17,000 serious crimes per day) and so the Judges are given powers of Judge, Jury and Executioner. No time for separation of powers in the new world. We join Judge Dredd on a routine day – he is in pursuit of a vehicle driving erratically – the occupants are high on “Slo-Mo” a potent drug that has recently hit the street. Slo-Mo changes the brains perception of time down to one one-hundreth of its normal speed. The pursuit serves as a high-octane introduction to the living conditions, criminality and dispensation of law, order and justice – future style.
We find that the source of the Slo-Mo is a gang (The Ma-Ma clan) operating out of one of the most notorious high-rises – “Peach Trees”. Over a period of time the Ma-ma clan have taken complete control of the Peach Trees complex – all 200 floors and 75,000 occupants. Nothing happens in the complex without their knowledge or say-so. They are the Law. To illustrate, Mama, the pitiless, sadistic and disfigured leader of the Ma-Ma clan (Lena Headey) deals with rival gang members in a spontaneous, jarring and gruesome public display. So her most recent run-in with a rival gang results in a few corpses and puts Peach Trees on the map at the Hall of Justice, via the ever present drones circling high above the metropolis.
At the Hall of Justice, the Chief Judge wants to see Dredd. Now I assumed this was going to be the familiar “over-zealous but highly effective officer gets lambasted by superiors for destroying half the city in courageous albeit unorthodox pursuit of bad guys” scene. But no – the Chief Judge wants Dredd to assess a new partner. The rookie in question – a beautiful and somewhat vulnerable Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) appears to be a pretty unusual prospect as a trainee Judge – save for a special mutation she has developed. The Hall of Justice wants to know whether her mutation is actually effective in the field. Dredd briefs his new partner and they set out choosing a crime to respond to. They pick the recent multiple homicides at Peach Trees. That looks like a good place to start Anderson’s assessment.
We are about to witness a heated debate over Who Is The Law, in the Peach Trees Complex.
As Dredd starts instructing his partner and they begin to question witnesses, moving onto suspects, finally apprehending Kay, one of the henchmen involved in the deaths of the rival gang members. Mama knows if Kay is interrogated back at the Hall of Justice her drug operation will be compromised or destroyed. She puts the complex into lock-down. No-one can get in or out. Then she puts out the contract on the two Judges trapped inside the building. Thousands of armed and vicious criminals with a decisive home ground advantage and nothing to lose face off against two Judges. The odds are not looking good. For the bad guys.
Let the debate commence.
This is a really good film. I was completely immersed thanks to the effective layering of the new world with the place and role of the Judges. There is a lot more to this world than could be covered in this movie so I hope they make a sequel. The Slo-Mo scenes were a beautiful triumph. Brilliantly interspersed with the rest of the film and they were absolutely breathtaking. It would have been easy for the film-makers to overdo this effect. They showed exceptional and skilful restraint, using the effect where it most mattered.
The look and feel of the film was gritty and in keeping with the narrative. It was interesting to spot different businesses within the Peach Trees complex – a medical centre, a shoe store, a cinema – ordinary things and pursuits in an extra-ordinary setting. The acting was tight and effective across the board. Everyone had their game faces on. Owing to his Judge’s helmet Karl Urban achieved the feat of acting with his mouth, voice and body language alone. Did a pretty good job. The dialog was well done, sardonic and understated. A few lines at the end were brilliant. The industrial music was powerful and tightly coupled to visuals, story and scene.
There is plenty more in terms of plot that I haven’t revealed. Not a dull moment and very few predictable moments. This film had for me big elements of “The Raid”, “La Horde” and “Assault on Precinct 13 (both versions)”. It is nothing like “Housos vs authority” 🙂 Which is good for both films.
If you like crime and/or sci-fi and/or action genres I can HIGHLY RECOMMEND Dredd to you.
9 out of 10.