Monday, April 14, 2014
We live in such a rich comic-book-inspired movie environment these days that there's no way I'm going to catch every one of these on the big screen. In fact, I've taken to mostly waiting to see them when they eventually hit the small screen. Such it was with Dredd, the lastest adaptation of the justly famous British comic book character. It was a hoot and a half!
Karl Urban (quickly becoming my favorite actor next to Ray Stevenson, and who gives us the perfectly pitched performance as Doctor McCoy in the new Star Trek movies) plays the role of Dredd and he does the thing which the part most requires, he never comes out from under the helmet, not once. I admire that immensely. It shows a commitment to the character that not all actors have (see below). Urban is properly gruff and grim and his Judge Dredd has all the characteristics I expected, raw violence and some slight brutal humor. It's easy for this character to be derailed by a too smarmy performance, and that Urban never does.
Judge Anderson, a rookie psychic judge is the connection for the audience, the new face who confronts the violent world of the mega-blocks and who must kill or die to fulfill her mission of delivering justice to the people. She's a character who sees the contradictions of the Judges and who seems always on the edge of accepting the legitimacy of the law as defined in Mega-City. Olivia Thirlby is darn good in a very demanding role.
Other Judges appear in this story of Dredd and Anderson facing down Ma-Ma a heinous drug baroness who rules "Peach Trees", the mega-block where almost all the action is situated. They are ineffective or corrupt, leaving Dredd and Anderson alone together to deliver "justice".
Unlike its 90's predecessor starring Sly Stallone as the infamous Judge Dredd, the new movie has no obvious comedy relief. There is absurdity galore and even cruel brutal satire in some few moments, but never would you say this movie plays it for laughs. I always thought for all its weaknesses that Stallone looked very good in the helmet and in those moments when he has it on that movie holds together. It's when it comes off and we get a more "humane" Dredd that the story begins to skid out of control (not including Rob Snyder who should've been killed early and often). The decision by the director and Urban to never show Dredd's face, in keeping with the comic, is key to making this new Dredd movie more effective.
Let there be no doubt. This is a seriously and sometimes hideously violent movie. People are killed left, right and center as Dredd and charge try to stay alive. The word that kept coming to mind as I watched this movie was "relentless". The violence is relentless and harsh and graphic. The story is relentless, confined within a single building for almost all of its duration. The villain Ma-Ma is relentless in her attempts to kill Dredd and maintain her willful control of the block. And finally Dredd himself is relentless, always moving forward in one way or another to fulfill his obligations as "the Law".