‘Dredd 3D’ perfectly meshes action, visuals
Compelling characters and story add to ‘Dredd’s' ingenuity
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 07:09
“Dredd 3D” is the best — and bloodiest — action movie released in a long time.
Set in the not−too−distant future, the film portrays Earth after it has experienced an unnamed catastrophe that left the land scorched. The only break in this unending desert is Mega−City One, a megalopolis containing 800 million people in a swath of land that stretches from Boston to Washington DC. Charged with keeping order in the chaos of Mega−City One are the “Judges” — basically a police force that combines the roles of cop, judge, jury and executioner into one badass deliverer of justice.
“Dredd” picks up when the protagonist Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) — who follows the law without reservation and is notorious among his district’s criminals — takes a rookie named Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) under his supervision on her training day. What starts as a routine drug bust in one of Mega−City One’s many “blocks” — 200−story apartment buildings housing 75,000 people −— quickly becomes a fight for the two judges to survive.
It quickly becomes clear that Dredd and Anderson have messed with the wrong drug−dealing cartel. Led by the villainous Mama (Lena Headey), the clan shuts down the entire block, trapping Dredd and Anderson inside with plenty of angry criminals bent on killing them.
From this moment on, the audience knows it is about to follow along with Dredd and Anderson on a ride through hell. What makes the ride an absolute joy, though, are the compelling characters, atypical for many action movies today, and Karl Urban’s performance as Dredd.
Most of his face is covered by a helmet and visor throughout the film, but Urban still manages to create a deep and enthralling character in Dredd.
First, his physicality is palpable. Urban’s punches are animalistically powerful and he wields his gun with precision and confidence. His voice is equally impressive — it is appropriately low and gravelly when he communicates with Anderson and the criminals, and he sounds a bit like an automated recording.
Dredd gains depth as he intersperses his emotionless speech with instances of hilarious — and very dark — deadpan humor. The one−two punch of Urban’s almost mechanical presence and voice make Dredd seem like the embodiment of law and justice. If you were a criminal in Mega−City One, you would be absolutely terrified of Judge Dredd.
Another deftly handled element of the film is the relationship between Dredd and the rookie Anderson. The chemistry between Urban and Thirlby is terrific, and audiences will become invested as their relationship morphs from one of mistrust to one of mutual respect. The contrast between the two characters lends a sense of authenticity to their growth through the film — their transformations feel wholly unique and organic.
Astounding visuals complement the great writing and acting — they completely immerse the audience in “Dredd’s” dystopian future. We see this as the opening shots pan over Mega−City One, which seems to stretch on forever and looks eerily realistic. Director Pete Travis achieved this realism by filming in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa and by filtering the city through a brown haze that blends it into the surrounding desert.
The visuals are also tied to the plot of the film, notably when the judges come across a drug called “Slo−Mo,” which, predictably, slows down the user’s perception of time. On−screen, this results in a number of grotesque, violent scenes. For example, when a bullet explodes through cheek of a bad guy on Slo−Mo, viewers see not only the gaping hole in the side of his face, but also every bit of flesh and blood travelling through the air in super−slow motion.
This movie is not for the squeamish. However, the violence is not used solely for shock value — it is a conscious aesthetic choice that ultimately enhances the viewing experience.
Contrasting with the grotesque visuals are sequences of incredible beauty. In a slow−motion shot of Mama emerging from a bathtub, we can see each water droplet separate in the air while a shimmering rainbow coats almost everything in the frame. These segments manage to feel mellow and hypnotic without detracting from the film’s pacing.