Monday, 3 September 2012


Release Date: 7th September (UK)
Director: Pete Travis
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
Screening Reviewed: London Press Screening

Reviewed by Henry Kelly

Having first appeared in the Science fiction comic 2000 AD as far back as 1977, Judge Dredd remains one of the greatest and most treasured of comic book icons. He is the faceless harbinger of justice who dispenses with bureaucracy and replaces it with menace. 

With the philosophy of justice as debatable as when the comics were first conceived, Dredd’s relevance is just as strong. The film resists the urge to answer to all the themes the comics raised and instead delivers a focussed action film that doesn't over reach itself and succeeds in bringing its source material out of the sabbatical forced by the failure of the Stallone-led first adaptation (Judge Dredd, 1995).

Set in the dystopian future of America, cities lie in ruin and within them huge towers have sprouted; structures nigh-upon cites themselves that choke and suffocate the poor civilians  remnants of society. Judge Dredd is the Dirty Harry of his time, an unwavering weapon of the state; given authority to judge, sentence and punish as necessary.

The narrative is spread across a single day in the life of Dredd as he trains a new psychic recruit and responds to a gang killing. The plot of course thickens thankfully but never turns to porridge. When Dredd and Anderson are trapped within a tower, their motives remain clear: deliver justice. The film remains visceral thanks to this concession and doesn't throw the strange curve-ball twists that action films often feel inclined to throw or shoehorn in.

And that action. One is reminded what an 18 certificate means in our desensitized age. Heads fall apart in slow motion, flesh is torn and and blown away like a child's play-doh set. It is gratuitous and without pretense. The result is a world that feels dangerous and makes the validity of Dredd and his direct, no-holds barred approach all the more acceptable.

Tasked with playing Dredd, is Karl Urban (Lord of the Rings, Star Trek) who must be commended for taking on a role where the audience only see the bottom portion of his face. Like the similar challenge of Tom Hardy playing Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, an actor without use of their face and therefore expression is forced to fashion a persona by other means. Urban succeeds with his scornful lip and gravelly voice and a willingness to play with the dialogue and draw out humour from the dead-pan lines. In one scene he presents a criminal with the option to die as it would “save him a lot of paper work”.

The contrast to Urban’s simmering steel is the warmth of the Anderson character played by Olivia Thirlby (Juno). The film shrewdly gives her psychic abilities that prevents her from wearing a helmet and allows her to literally snatch some of the subtext from the scenes with her powers. She is effective in giving the audience our route into this violent world, and is neatly positioned between Dredd and the films central villain, with conflicted feelings about Dredd’s black-and-white perspective on the world. 

The aforementioned villain of the film, Ma-ma, is played by Lena Headey whom audiences are likely to remember as the cold and calculating Cersei Lannister from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Here she uses her authority and presence effectively given the limited character depth. There isn’t much back story to provide any added dimension or motivation, though as a result she remains enigmatic and arguably more menacing. It is refreshing to see a villain without a moral disclaimer explaining their actions.

The same came be true of much of the approach to this reboot. Alex Garland, who was inspired to adapt the screenplay from his appreciation of the original comics, has shown a flair in the past for stripping films of unneeded subtext and confusion, and here he pushes this philosophy to the brink. The action, which plays like a video game in possession of itself, is not coloured by motives that try to justify it. Judge Dredd, similarly, is one such character who shouldn't be justified and the film recognises that his resonance comes from his absoluteness. Dredd is pared down to the bone and the result is a film that feels fresh without having to insist on itself.

The 3D effect boasted in the title doesn't add a great deal in most scenes and is subtle enough to be forgotten until it is dialed up most notably for a sequence of drug taking scenes. Rendered in slow-motion, they use 3D effectively to help perpetuate a surreal, dream-like feel. One scene in particular also uses the 3D to show the perspective of someone falling from great height and installs a nausea that might not have been so effective in 2D. Other than these highlights, though, it is an extra layer to the visuals that for most of the film merely blends into the mayhem.

The soundtrack is a terrific bass laden score that is as close to melody as earth hitting mud. Combined with the subdued production design that uses blandness as a strength and cinematography that is allowed free reign to embellish and you have what amounts to a focus, streamlined and thoroughly enjoyable amusement ride.

As long as you can subscribe to this idea and not look for strong subtext, Dredd 3D very well may surprise you. If you want the film to become an essay on its own violence or offer a strong emotional progression then you’re probably best to carry on walking.

Just don’t judge.

(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 stars)

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Press Screening access for Dredd 3D provided by Freud Communications. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their assistance and invitation.


    Dredd rocks!

  2. Any chance you can check the RSS feed? Its last post is dated 2012-06-14.

    1. Hi there,

      Please find that the RSS Feed should now feature all articles.

      Many thanks again for the heads up.

      Kindest Regards,

      The (A)musings Team

  3. Hi there,

    Many thanks for the heads up - we're going to look into this and try find out why all of ours posts and reviews since Matilda have not been appearing in the RSS feed.

  4. a noble thing about the soundtrack is that each song was in relation to each scenario.

  5. Good review. It’s fun, bloody, and in-your-face, but it still felt like something was missing in the action-department at the end. I don’t know what it was, but something could have been a lot crazier about this material I feel like.

    1. Thanks for your comments Dan - I'm sure Henry will pop on and reply personally when he gets a moment!

    2. Hi Dan,

      Thanks for the kind words and I'm glad you enjoyed the film. I think the ending was quite understated, which I agree was kind of suprising given the unrelenting lead up.

  6. Thrilling, high octane, and visceral.


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