DREDD (95 min) (R18)
REVIEW: Directed by Pete Travis.
Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby.
Judge Dredd is a difficult character to bring to film. Firstly, he's the creation of British comic artists, and not nearly as well known in the United States as Batman and co.
Secondly, his face can never be seen. It's been that way in the comic 2000AD ever since he made his first appearance, in issue 2, back in 1977. There is no Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker style alter-ego with Dredd. And therefore no opportunity for comic relief to ever humanise or 'lighten up' the character. That's a pretty formidable obstacle to the film makers and the actor playing the character. Even Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry was allowed a few brief moments of vulnerability. Dredd gets nothing.
And thirdly, Dredd is the epitome of totalitarianism. His world is one in which the judges are the law. They sentence on the spot, decide the punishment - which is often death - and administer accordingly. There are no appeals, no clemency, and no recourse to any independent authority.
Again, this is hard stuff to make palatable to any but the most mouth-breathing, knuckle-headed yahoo. (Or an ACT party candidate.) In the comics, the character was always a satiric anti-hero. Later story lines had him actively helping to crush a pro-democracy movement. But action movies aren't much cop at subtlety and irony, and so the Dredd you see here is played pretty straight and matter-of-factly.
And, it works. Blessed with a decent script - albeit one that is very close to that of The Raid - a couple of good lead performances, and set design, costumes, and staging lifted straight from the pages of the comics, this is a Dredd that the fans will love.
In the lead, Wellington-born Karl Urban gets the character just right. He has the presence, the body language, and - most importantly - the chin all locked in. Without eyes, or much dialogue, but aided by a very expressive sound track, Urban lets us know what Dredd is thinking. Next to him, Olivia Thirlby's rookie judge Anderson is also faithful enough to the source material to please the faithful.
Dredd is, as it should be, a dark, and darkly comic, film. If the planned trilogy eventuates, then the character will have to be allowed to develop, but for now this Dredd is at least good enough to erase our memories of that bloody awful Sylvester Stallone aberration. And that's reason enough to like it right there.
- The Dominion Post