Regularly promoted as an underrated good movie, I managed to see Dredd a while ago. Unlike Stallone’s gaudy treatment, the focus in this movie is on the plausible reality of the setting: the costume alludes to the comics but is the kind of utilitarian outfit a cop could wear, the enemies are not-particularly-special gang members, Dredd has no history with anyone he encounters, and treats the entire movie as just another day at work.
Well it’s not quite just another day – he’s running a rookie’s exams – Anderson, whose marks put just into a fail grade, but is a mutant psychic. She provides the character arc and emotional content that Dredd lacks by design (Karl Urban does not take off his helmet for the entire movie), though the famously impassive Judge does soften very slightly at the end. Anderson is a great contrast to the unflappable Dredd and the detached, dead-in-the-eyes villain Ma-Ma.
Several scenes are filmed to depict the effect of the drug Slo-Mo – oversaturated, sparkling, and in slow motion, bringing a strange beauty to the grimy and gritty setting (apparently these were when the 3D effects kicked in). When the violence starts, the Slo-Mo effects become particularly graphic. There are many brief cuts from the perspective of surveillance cameras, which add to the realistic feel.
Dredd occurs almost entirely within a single gigantic slum building, and the movie spends a lot of effort humanising the residents, depicting mundane happenings, juvenile gang members, reluctant gang members, members’ families, and people caught in the crossfire.
Unlike many other comic book adaptations, Dredd doesn’t attempt both to depict a setting and then overturn it; here the dystopian Mega City One (shot in South Africa) is played straight, including the fascism, brutality, corruption, and overall ineffectiveness of the police force (and its parallels to the gangs). Lena Headey puts in a strong performance as Ma-Ma, but her character isn’t a threat to Dredd and even seems resigned to her fate.
I really enjoyed Dredd, I liked its commitment to grounding the source material and making it plausible, and levelly depicting the setting without undue drama. While the movie was unsuccessful at the box office ($36.5m on a budget of $45m), I would welcome a sequel.