Dredd

Movie Review #849: Adding a sci-fi twist to ‘The Raid”s formula, ‘Dredd’ is a thoroughly engrossing, dystopian blockbuster that makes some sly social commentary along the way.

★★★½
By Red Stewart

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Action, Sci-Fi
Rated R (contains graphic violence, drug content, sexual content, profanity)
95 minutes

Science fiction has always been the greatest way of making snarky remarks about current problems in society indirectly. It’s why it’s one of the greatest genres ever created; you can entertain the dumb masses whilst providing intellectual fodder for smarter audiences. The original Star Trek television series was famous for doing just this, and numerous movies have also joined the ranks.

In that regard, “Dredd” is one of the most original sci-fi films to come out in recent years. Based on the long-running Judge Dredd comic strip, “Dredd” is set in a dystopian future where a nuclear war has destroyed most of civilization and left the rest of the world in an almost-anarchic state. Keeping order are the Judges, individuals who act as judge, jury, and executioner on the streets. Aiming to join these ranks is rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is assigned under the veteran Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) for evaluation. During his daily tour of the city, Dredd traces the source of a popular street drug called Slo-Mo to a slum tower run by drug kingpin Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Not wanting her empire to crumble, Ma-Ma traps the two inside her building, forcing them to fight their way out.

I did call Dredd an original story, but fans of “The Raid: Redemption” will disagree with me. Indeed, they both hold a similar premise of law enforcement officials getting stuck in a drug lord’s castle with no choice but to fight to the death, but that’s where the parallels end. While “The Raid” was a fun, stylish martial arts film with subtle patriotic themes, “Dredd” pushes into the social commentary area of sci-fi I was talking about before, without appearing heavy-handed like “Elysium”. Its underlying themes deal with the poverty line, and the many hazards that come from not addressing it. For example, the harrowing ramifications of drug abuse are explored in a way not seen since “Requiem for a Dream”; not to mention how easily a mass market is created through addiction and debt. Police brutality on the poor is also touched on, as well as the ethics of peacekeeping in general.

All of this, and more, is weaved into the simple storyline so poetically that “Dredd” can be enjoyed as an action film without coming off as mindless entertainment. Producer, writer, and VFX co-supervisor Alex Garland stated that it was his intention to make the violence beautiful, and I can tell you that he has succeeded greatly. There is a lot of intense fighting and bloodshed in “Dredd”, but unlike in “Kill Bill” and “The Raid”, it doesn’t feel gratuitous or glorified in any sense. It all comes naturally with the marvelously-constructed hellish setting the two heroes find themselves in.

Speaking of the leads, you couldn’t find a better pair of actors for the roles. Urban and Thirlby embody their characters straight from the comics, perfectly contrasting Dredd’s emotionless and experienced demeanor with Anderson’s naïve rookieness. This is certainly not to count out Lena Headey’s creepy performance as the antagonist Ma-Ma, which I guarantee you, will stand out as one of the most underrated villainous roles in film history.

In the end, “Dredd” won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re a fan of smart sci-fi action films like “The Matrix” and “Minority Report”, it should satisfy.

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