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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dredd (2012) movie review

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: Awesome visual experience despite modest budget, fast paced plot that maintains sense of tension, "no nonsense" protagonist, straightforward action narrative, intensely violent combat scenes, stays true to the spirit of the original comic

The Bad: plot feels like a generic special forces raid/crime film,  lack of more subtle underlying themes, much superficial thrills with little depth


The world slows, colors are more vibrant, words are pin sharp, everything is more brilliant. No it is not the ad for the new iPad but the effects of the drug “Slo-Mo”. One experiences a moment of true beauty and wonder; a fleeting moment that feels like an eternity until the “Slo-Mo drug wears off and you are snapped back to a harsh painful reality. Reality is a scorched earth with the remnants of humanity crammed into the overpopulated “Mega-City One”. Reality is rampant crime and chaos; the death of a man is a common occurrence that is treated with as much dignity as taking out the garbage. In this grim reality order is maintained by the Judges: futuristic police given the authority to judgment without trial be it a year in an isolation cell or a death sentence. Most notably among them, is the mysterious Judge Dredd (Karl Urban).

Resolute, unwavering, and seemingly devoid of bias, pity or empathy, Dredd represents the strict and uncompromising law that he serves; a law that is just as extreme as the criminals he deals with. On a routine training assessment for rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), Dredd and Anderson end up at the notorious “Peach Trees” mega block: 200 floors of slums controlled by a gang run by a sadistic drug lord “Ma-Ma” (Lena Headley). When the Judges capture one of Ma-Ma’s head henchmen, she locks down the entire block and orders the death of both Dredd and Anderson. The sentence for the attempted murder of a Judge is death; a sentence that Dredd is more than happy to carry out. It is guns-a-blazing action as Dredd and Anderson blast their way up the Mega Block, going up against enemies within and without toward their ultimate goal of dispensing justice.

For fans of the original comic, one would say that this movie does to Judge Dredd what Christopher Nolan did for Batman. This “Nolan-ised” Judge Dredd sports a uniform more akin to modern day Special Forces gear than his comic book get-up. Gone are the aliens, robots, hover bikes and space ships. This is a future that is grounded in our current reality. Other than the presence of the Mega Blocks, the city wall and the Judges’ Hall of Justice, Mega-City One is your standard crowded metropolis of today with familiar architecture.

Yet the movie succeeds in remaining true to the spirit, heart and soul of the concept and the character (a lot more so than the  1995 Judge Dredd movie starring Sylvester Stallone). Karl Urban IS Dredd. His mannerisms, body language and voice are a perfect fit for this faceless lawman of the future. All the other roles are played so well that you forget about the actors and just see them as the characters they are. This proves once again that one does not need big name actors to make a good movie, just good actors. .

Director Pete Travis and his team manage to find the perfect balance between no-holds-barred action and quiet lulls between the gunfire. At no point does the movie drag; the “talk time” serves to flesh out the characters and build up tension which is then released in the many stylish shootouts. Accompanying the carnage is a synth rock soundtrack by composer Paul Leonard Morgan. In this age of loud bass, heavy percussions and grand orchestral movie scores, it is refreshing to hear DREDD’s synth soundtrack. The composer weaves a familiar heavy metal and electronic rock sound that is agile beyond belief; going from intense pulse pounding to match the action scenes to an ethereal and surreal feel for the “Slo-Mo” scenes.

On that note, DREDD is one movie that turns slow motion into a true work of art.  Drops of water shimmer like diamonds as they fall, smoke billows like clouds in heaven. This creative cinematography and use of special effects make the slow motion scenes stand out from other abusers of slow motion filming such as Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil retribution.  

DREDD is able to prevent itself from being a typical “all action no brains” movie. Within its narrative lies unique characters, a frightful vision of our possible future and a small snicker of satire. Its fast paced plot, grim protagonist and gritty violence hearkens back to the golden age of the 80s action films while its creative cinematography matches that of high concept arts films.The bottom line is, everything from the visuals, the story, the music and the characters fit together to produce one magnificent adaptation of the beloved UK comic book.

Truly a rare diamond in the rough amidst the run-of-the-mill modern action flicks. And  despite critical acclaim, DREDD is no doubt destined to be serverely underrated by box office takings.

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Go For it: if you yearn for the days where action heroes were strong, tough and more than glad to fulfil their violent purpose with extreme prejudice or if you love easy-to-follow "Cops and Guns-a-blazing" movies.
Avoid it: if you expect deep philosophical, political or social themes such as in "The Dark Knight Rises" or if you demand a strict adherance to the original comic book's outlandish setting and style

Entertainment: A
Story: B+
Acting: A
Characters: A
Music: A-
Replay value: A
"Brains": C-

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