If I had an alternate star rating purely for B-Grade movies, Dredd would score five stars. It might just be one of the best B-Grade movies I have ever seen. It has all the hall marks of the genre complete with a nondescript every man hero and wall to wall ultra violent action. But what will come as a surprise is that it has characters and a narrative that hold water. It won’t be winning any awards, and by no means is it anything more than an action movie, but its entertaining. Its something critics don’t celebrate often enough, there is a place for pure popcorn escapism and this is a great example of it.
America is an irradiated waste land. On the east coast lies Mega City One, a violent metropolis containing 800 million residents where 17,000 crimes are reported daily. The only force against this chaos are the “Judges”, who act as judge, jury, and executioner dispensing justice instantly in the streets of the city. One such Judge named Dredd (Karl Urban) is tasked with evaluating a rookie name Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Anderson is a psychic who has failed the tests to become a full Judge. While on the field test they arrest a drug dealer, one of the Ma-Ma gangs henchmen. Ma-Ma can’t afford to have her dealer interrogated about her operation, so she seizes control of the tower’s security and seals the building. There is no way she will let the two Judges leave alive.
As a character Dredd is essentially one-dimensional with no back story. Urban plays him as a glacier, and unstoppable force with no emotion that calmly and without fear puts criminals down at his own pace. It’s a credit to Urban that he can bring some life to this character and give you the feeling he has far more depth to him than is available in the narrative. You only see his mouth and chin for the whole film, but somehow he’s very effective. As a counterpoint to Dredd, Anderson stands as a person of great empathy and struggles to balance her role as a judge with her compassion. Being able to read minds makes the black and white way Dredd sees the world a far more grey experience. Then comes Ma-Ma (lena Headey) who like Anderson grew up in the slums, but has led a different path in life. She’s played like a crack addict, and Headley does a great job of being ugly both on the inside and out. It’s clear someone has put a decent amount of time developing at least these three characters, because they work very well together on a number of levels.
It’s wonderful I can talk about these characters like this, this is B-Grade for crying out loud. The movie even manages to create a symbolic journey for the character Dredd as he comes to understand Anderson and ultimately, ever so coolly, he grows a kind of affection for her. The film’s high points are not just it’s well shot action sequences, but the small interplay between the characters of Dredd and Anderson. It’s not like there isn’t bad dialogue or an absence of cliché, it’s all there, but its forgivable because the film is so appealing on a certain level.
The action is designed well and shot adequately, of particular note are the very violent slow motion action sequences. Director Pete Travis has done a decent job bringing the world of Dredd to life in a believable way but without any artistic flair. The screenplay is essentially by the numbers, but it suits the mood of the story quite well. I would have liked more tension and story telling from the visuals, but I still think this is still such an appealing movie that I will purchase it on BluRay when it’s released.
Dredd is the ultimate action B-Grade movie. At 98 minutes long it won’t bore you, and it won’t disappoint if you want to turn off your brain and be entertained. There is enough there to ensure it isn’t insulting your intelligence, and if you’re a fan of the comic books I don’t see how you can be disappointed either.