'Comic' movie is not for the kids

MATT LAWREY
Last updated 12:55 10/10/2012

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It's not every day a film like Dredd comes along.

Like a lot of movies, it's based on a comic. However, unlike most films based on comics, Dredd is about as adult as you can get.

Even Christopher Nolan's brilliant Batman films make concessions in their content to score box office-friendly classifications.

The makers of Dredd see things differently. Ignoring the usual commercial imperatives, they have gone out of their way to make a film that only a twisted soul would let their kid see.

Dredd is hard as nails, totally uncompromising and, on a lot of levels, really cool.

For those unacquainted with his honour, Judge Dredd is a fascist lawman dreamed up by British writer and artist duo John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra in the 1970s.

In Dredd's world the future is a very bad place to be and the only people doing anything about maintaining law and order are enforcers known as judges; men and women with the right to sentence and, if the law requires, execute criminals on the spot.

In the movie, most of America has been turned into an irradiated wasteland. The only inhabitable area left is Mega City One, a vast urban jungle that is home to 800 million souls.

One day the constantly helmeted Dredd, played by New Zealand's Karl Urban, is given the job of assessing a new rookie judge named Anderson, played by Olivia Thirlby.

Anderson is of particular interest to Mega City's chief judge because of psychic powers she was born with as a result of a mutation caused by her parents being exposed to nuclear fallout.

The pair start their day responding to the torture and murder of three gang members in a 200-storey housing block known as Peach Trees.

The killings are the work of a gang of sociopathic drug dealers led by the disfigured and seriously nasty Ma-Ma played by Lena Headey.

When Dredd and Anderson waste a bunch of Ma-Ma's goons and arrest one of her lieutenants, she takes over the building's security system, puts the place into lockdown and orders its residents to kill the judges.

If this sounds familiar then you've probably seen the action-thriller/bloodbath The Raid.

Apparently the result of incredibly dumb luck, Dredd's plot bears more than a passing resemblance to the Indonesian film that hit screens earlier this year.

And while anyone who has seen The Raid will find it impossible not to make comparisons, Dredd's screenplay by Alex Garland deserves credit for its pared-back, intense efficiency.

Kudos also for Dredd's cast. Urban rocks the lead role with a performance that is part Dirty Harry, part Robocop.

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His grim line deliveries are pitch-perfect and he creates an indelible character without the audience ever seeing his face.

Thirlby's stocks will also be on the way up thanks to a gutsy effort that provides both kick-arse athleticism and moments of serenity in the maelstrom.

Headey, meanwhile, is chillingly convincing as a woman with an apparently insatiable appetite for ultra violence.

Direction-wise, Pete Travis gets plenty of bang from a comparatively modest budget by confining 90 per cent of the action to the corridors and staircases of Peach Trees.

None of the camera work is particularly inventive but the sheer ferocity of the action and shrewd use of 3-D makes Dredd an exciting ride.

Bottom line: Seriously staunch.

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- The Marlborough Express

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