Director: Pete Travis
Studio: DNA Films/Lionsgate
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey
Excellence: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A bomb at the box office that is destined to be a cult classic on par with Blade Runner for it's excellent portrayal of a post-apocalyptic future, good acting, and lots of good action as Judge Dredd and rookie Judge Anderson must fight their way out of the Peach Trees megablock controlled by psychopathic crime boss Ma-Ma.
This film was one of the most pleasant surprises and enjoyable viewings of all the films I've watched this year. Although I expressed cautious optimism in the summer, I was skeptical, especially after how horrifically bad Prometheus turned out to be. I really REALLY wish I'd given Prometheus a miss and seen Dredd in the cinema.
The film wisely took the approach of offering a "slice of life" of the violent, post-apocalyptic Mega City 1 rather than trying to show everything as in the Stallone film. The main premise of the film is that the Judges of the Halls of Justice (police) have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner. Dredd tells the story of novice Judge Anderson's first day on the job under the supervision (and assessment) of the legendary Judge Dredd; they are trapped inside the 1 km-high Peach Trees megablock which houses 75,000 people by a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO and must fight their way out.
First: the atmosphere and fully-realized world. I always love a film with a well-developed and well-portrayed, gritty, lived-in, "maculate reality" aesthetic. It's a big part of what made Alien and Blade Runner classics, and as I alluded to in my one-sentence summary, Dredd definitely has it. Real sets, real people, and a very lived-in feel to the whole thing. It really allowed me to get "into" that world.
The plot was fast-paced and well-conceived. The right amount of levity (usually via Judge Dredd's deadpan) was inserted and the characters were all well done and interesting. The action tended to be very violent and bloody, as befits this sort of film, so be warned that it is quite brutal in parts. But it was very well-done action: nothing over-the-top, giving it more of a realistic feel, and because the characters were well-done, one cared about the outcome. The special effects were very-well done (the way SLO-MO is portrayed was great) nicely understated and blended into the scenery -- makes me wish ALL sci fi films were limited to a $40 million budget!
The acting: one doesn't always expect great performances in an action film but I thought everyone was great in this one and very convincing. I've enjoyed Mr. Urban's performances in all the films I've seen him in, including The Two Towers/Return of the King, RED, and even The Chronicles of Riddick, but I must say he's now one of my favourite actors. His portrayal of Dredd was absolutely perfect and really made the film. Olivia Thirlby did a great job as a young/frightened novice judge who really comes into her own through the crucible of the Peach Trees megablock. One wonders if Lena Headey isn't actual an evil psychopathic woman given her excellence in the role of Ma-Ma and her reportedly spot-on portrayal of Queen Cersei in the Game of Thrones TV series.
It should be noted, however, that this is a film STRICTLY more mature adults, and adults who are not sensitive to violence, foul language and some suggestive content. According to kids-in-mind.com, the "F-bomb" is dropped 47 times and there is 1 "religious exclamation". The violence is fairly intense in parts and quite "no holds barred", although I would think one would expect that for a post-apocalyptic film taking place in a violent, crime-ridden city. The sexual content may disturb some, although I consider myself pretty strict on that score, and was not troubled by it (certainly not titillated given the context). The worst is a very brief soft-focus shot depicting a criminal's imagining having sex with the rookie female judge and you can see bare breasts, buttocks and legs (sort of, given the soft focus).
Overall, I thought this a fine, fine film. The most enjoyable new science fiction film I've experienced since Serenity way back in 2005. Like Serenity, it did quite poorly at the box office and I can't fathom why, aside from poor marketing.