Monday, 1 October 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Dredd

Directed by: Pete Travis

Produced by: Alex Garland
Andrew MacDonald
Allon Reich

Screenplay by: Alex Garland

Based on: Judge Dredd by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra

Starring: Karl Urban
Olivia Thirlby
Lena Headey
Wood Harris

Music by: Paul Leonard-Morgan

Cinematography by: Anthony Dod Mantle

Editing by: Mark Eckersley

Studio(s): DNA Films
IM Global
Reliance Entertainment

Distributed by: Entertainment Film Distributors

Release date(s): July 11, 2012 (San-Diego Comic Con)
September 7, 2012 (United Kingdom)
September 21, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 95 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom
South Africa

Language: English

Production budget: $50 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $21, 048, 563

Hey gang, me being my usual backwards self again. For the next couple of weeks I'll be posting my reviews for films from the month of September and will follow them with a little bit of a thing I like to call my Movie Of The Month. Yes, I know it is October now, His Royal Dudeness has been slacking a bit, but I write the rules on this blog so I suggest you learn your place, you bunch of degenerate ingrates, and show me a bit of respect! Just kidding, all jokes and egotism of Nietzschean proportions, I will be getting down to looking at Samsara, The Three Stooges, Dragon Eyes, Total Recall, Lawless and Keith Lemon: The Film for the month of September so keep your eyes posted!

Right well, today's movie up for debate (on the proverbial dinner plate, huh, huh, I make jokes, jokes are funny!) is Dredd. This is a movie I must say I saw as much for the fact that I am a huge fan of the 2000AD comic Judge Dredd as for the purposes of reviewing. I was introduced to Judge Dredd at the age of probably about five or six by my uncle, and having had the experience of reading The Beano and The Dandy on a weekly basis, the violent dystopian future of Mega-City One, heading up by a badass, borderline fascist Dirty Harry-type hero in Judge Dredd blew my mind. In relation to this film, everyone has been chomping at the bit to dig up the grave of the 1995 adaptation with Sylvester Stallone. I haven't seen that film in years, but I always remembered loving the opening block war scenes, which is about all the scenes we see Dredd keep his helmet on. Yes, I'm a Dredd Helmet mark! Anyway, after that adaptation, we have this one here. Dredd, or Dredd 3D as some cinemas have been marketing it, stars Karl Urban as the eponymous Judge, who is saddled (on account of the Chief Judge) young rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is being given a field assessment as to whether or not she qualifies as a Judge. While investigating a 'routine' triple-homicide in Peach Trees, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the drug lord and kingpin of the two-hundred storey tower block, seals them in as they gather information about her dealings of Slo-Mo. So, what we get essentially is what a sort-of day in the life of Judge Dredd with this film, and with these things said, let's get right down to the review.

The first thing I must say from the get-go is that there is a lot to be said about Dredd, most of which is very positive. Karl Urban's performance as Dredd is easy to overlook, given that much of his face is obscured by the helmet, but don't let deny the work he has put in. Much like Peter Weller in Robocop, Urban's movements are almost that of a mime, letting his body speak physically to compensate for the lack of facial expressiveness on the character. Speaking of expressions, the downturned frown of Dredd that is plastered on his face throughout, combined with Urban's physical performance, appropriately give Dredd a symbolic nature, and in many ways, Dredd is an extremely subtle character study. Also, his vocal delivery is spot-on, never overdoing any of the lines, and speaking with a tone that Out-Eastwoods Clint Eastwood for raspiness. For a film that is so outright macho in its violent, gung-ho tone, it features some great female acting. Olivia Thirlby's Anderson, if miscast, could have been an annoying character. Instead, Thirlby carries her with restraint, wisdom and acts with confidence against the potentially all-consuming character of Dredd. Her Anderson is a likeable and thoroughly charming rookie, whose arc is believable, and Thirlby's physical presence allows us to believe that although she may be, as a good-looking young woman, a potential victim to the violence of these gang members, there's a good chance she might kick their ass! On the other side of likeable, we have Lena Headey's Ma-Ma. As thoroughly violent and despicable a sociopath as has ever hit the big screen, Ma-Ma's lack of emotional reaction to the havoc she is raising around her is terrifying. Throughout the film, we are in genuine fear for what might happen if she digs her claws in the judges. That's just the acting! Technically, though on a $50 million budget, small by Hollywood standards, the film is excellent. The opening CGI shots of Mega-City One look terrific, and the Slo-Mo sequences, though clearly designed for the 3D market, dazzle in the 2D format. This is down to Anthony Dod Mantle's keen eye as cinematographer. As some you may know, I'm not always a fan of digital cinematography, but with Dod Mantle I'll make an exception. Over the years, with films such as Festen and 28 Days Later, he has proved the legitimacy of digital photography's artistry. In Dredd, he heads onto new boundaries with the 3D format. Don't get me wrong, this is a dark, nasty, violent film, but there are some moments of real, genuine beauty with the Slo-Mo sequences. Also, outside of the Slo-Mo scenes, the film is well-lit, so that despite the darkness, we can see what's going on, while still experiencing the sheer overbearing onslaught of the main characters. I must also compliment the film's score. Yes, that's right, I'm complimenting the music for a film! Paul Leonard-Morgan's post-industrial beats are a perfect sonic soundscape to Dredd. The bass pulsates like a hypnotic heartbeat, following the traditional Hollywood format, but the instrumentation is unpredictable and is constantly threatening to attack you. Like the cinematography, it has its moments of beauty, but when things start happening, SHIT GETS HEAVY! I'm listening to it as I review the film, and it immediately conjures up everything I liked about the movie. Also, from a design standpoint it is outstanding. The sound design, working in correlation with the score, is of note. Granted, I heard foley effects that I remember from GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64, but man, as much of the film's atmosphere is about the sonic soundscape as it is the visual side. Speaking of which, the film's whole mise-en-scene, production design, costume/hair departments, stunt teams, all have put their time into making the best film possible. A lot of the ingenuity of the film, especially where the budgetary constraints are regarded, must be put down to Alex Garland's script. By confining Dredd and Anderson to a small space with a basic premise, Garland works, pardon the visual metaphor, from the bottom floor up to the top, developing a strong, well-laid out world for the characters to inhabit. Also, this is as tight a script as I have encountered for a film in ages. At ninety-five minutes, Dredd is one lean machine of a film with no excess flab around its edges. It has a nice, consistent and engaging structure that doesn't let up from the moment the film starts. Garland has painted Mega-City One as one cruel, vicious nightmare of a place. Dredd is an extraordinarily violent mainstream film that will have salivating at the prospects of digesting. One has to admire that Garland has went for this tone, and never cops out, not once, and he makes no bones for the fact that Judge Dredd is as violent and singular as Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry. Finally, director Pete Travis keeps what could have been a pure exercise of self-indulgence on the part of Alex Garland restrained and under control. Like Urban, Travis' part in the production cannot be overlooked, as he reigns this in and keeps it as lean as is possible. 

So, yes, needless to say I liked Dredd. However, I will not go so far as to say the film is flawless. Some of the dialogue, while featuring some excellent black humour, comes across more as stilted than funny. Also, the film's biggest problem is not so much what the film is, but what it isn't. The fact is that you can tell that Dredd, in its overall design, is meant to serve as a precursor to future instalments. I think it will stand alone as a film, but you do feel like the best is yet to come.

Whether or not the best will ever come is another matter. Dredd, despite opening at number one in the U.K. box-office, against other openers Lawless and Anna Karenina, has struggled at the U.S. box-office. While figures mean nothing as to the film's overall quality, I would urge you all to go and see this movie, and not just because I got to see the Judge Dredd movie I wanted to see, but I think that this an excellent film that many people will want to see. In a world of so many watered-down, compromised works of art, this stands out. Ultraviolent and unashamed of it, Dredd features three great performances from Urban, Thirlby and Headey, a well-established mise-en-scene and a powerful sonic soundscape. Furthermore, it is an ingeniously designed film which is beautifully shot, has as tight a script as I can remember, and a director whose contribution cannot be denied. This is the exploitation/B-movie Quentin Tarantino has been trying to make for years. I shit you not, this is the most fun thing that's gonna be in the cinema all year!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Amped (frankly, you could get high off of this movie. I've put thought into it, and I've got an answer for my own question: "Dude, having seen Dredd twice already, would you see it again?" "Yes, Brain, I would see this movie again. I want to see it before it gets out of the cinema, and I'm gonna to buy it on DVD. Thank you, bye!)

P.S. Mark Eckersley's editing was good too. Just thought I'd throw that one out there!

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