I admit I am not familiar with Judge Dredd the comics, but I did see
the 1995 film with Sylvester Stallone, and, well... I wouldn't say it
wasn't entertaining, but... Now comes the updated "Dredd". And it is
surprisingly a thrill.
Never mind that the story is basically a pastiche of "Blade Runner", and this year's ultra-violent "The Raid". If "The Raid" was ultra-violent, then this is uber-violent. It's rated R? Should be NC-17. It's surprisingly gory. Heads and limbs are smashed, fly off and explode in realistic, bloody detail. Bullet wounds and broken bones look all-too realistic. Dozens of innocents are slaughtered graphically by the sadistic villainness.
But why did I enjoy this movie? Because all of those scenes fit within the film's gritty, edgy new atmosphere, courtesy of director Pete Travis ("Vantage Point") and especially production designer Mark Digby and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (both of whom have worked on "Slumdog Millionaire"). Mantle's very stylish cinematography stands out here: we have nice wide angles to appreciate the special effects and sets, and the violence in all its brutality. Paul Leonard-Morgan's effective and gritty techno bass score cues everything at the right moments, and the editing is paced nice and tight with a cohesive flow throughout, instead of the usual cut-cut-cut and paste job of today.
I want to mention a terrific use of slow motion where all four technical aspects combine. The use of slow motion when the crooks take a special drug (appropriately titles SLO-MO) is among the most stylish and positive uses of the editing technique I've seen. Those hallucination sequences are superb and creative visually, it feels all too real (maybe a bit more if you watch the sequences in the good but unspectacular 3D).
How about our hero? Karl Urban makes Dredd his own. Echoing Clint Eastwood's own Dirty Harry persona (there's even a scene which reminds me of "Magnum Force") - he scowls and growls and dishes out hard brutal justice the only way he knows how. Urban is great in one of his few lead roles - and let's hope the fans agree. Lena Headey really makes a nasty, sadistic and cruel villainness that permeates the film's atmosphere as well, while Olivia Thirlby is a pretty face, doesn't really bring anything new, but yet doesn't stand out from the film. Although I am glad Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland does not force a stupid romance between her character and Dredd. It just doesn't fit.
Overall, this is a surprisingly intense thrill ride. It is loud and flashy, and occasinally big, but it is all done right. Pete Travis makes a usual story/screenplay into a stylish, uber-violent futuristic action pic, he goes for ambition and fills the film with more stylistic touches and goes straight for the jugular. More importantly, he is one of the few directors who knows when and especially how to use slow motion. Take that, Michael Bay.
If you're looking for blood and carnage, and Karl Urban's great take on Dredd, then this is the movie for you. This makes Stallone's movie look like camp.
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