Well, that hit the spot.
I sometimes look in the mirror and wonder about myself: for a liberal-pinko-commie (go Obama!) whose newspaper of choice is The Guardian or The New Statesman, spliced with a dash of Paul Krugman, I often wonder why I have this psycho fascist buried within my psyche that loves to see the good guys put the boot into the bad guys in the most sadistic way possible.
And DREDD dishes out the pain on a monumental scale. Unshackled from the requirements of ‘big studio’ movie making, DNA Films have really cranked up the gore, and this film feels like an eighties action movie, replete with monosyllabic man-of-steel hero, and his female sidekick (who looks like an eighties popstar), and aided and abetted by a comparatively low budget that actually works in the film’s favour. Karl Urban interprets Dredd as a proto Dirty Harry pushed to the Nitzschean super-human limit: at one point Dredd gets shot through a concrete block by an armour piercing bullet, but only grimaces a little, before stitching himself up with a stapler and some super glue. I half expected him to mutter “it’s only a flesh wound!”
Whilst Urban plays DREDD as close to the comic as he can, Olivia Thirlby is merely perfunctory in the role of the rookie Judge Anderson, although she does manage to imbue a little vulnerability and inject a little humanity into the proceedings (despite sporting a haircut/look that would be more in keeping with Baywatch). At one point I worried that she was there to be the damsel-in-distress character, but she gets more to do in the movie than just be dead weight that needs protecting/rescuing. The film-makers do leave her psychic abilities relatively unexplored; while I am not an expert on Judge Dredd/Anderson, it did seem to be the case that her powers were conveniently switched on or off as the plot demanded it.
Whilst Thirlby is journeyman-lite in her portrayal of Judge Anderson, Lena Headey owns the role of ‘Ma-Ma’. I took a while to warm to Lena Headey in The Sarah Connor Chronicles (although I ended up loving the show), but she does a great job with not a lot to work with as ‘Ma Ma’. She actually underplays the part a little, which, in light of all the carnage that happens in this movie, works well. Unfortunately, she doesn’t actually do a lot in this film, other than bark orders and look menacing (admittedly, she does both with aplomb). We get the sense that she’s a cunning psychopath; it would have been nice to have seen her unleash a little more.
This film had teething troubles during the shoot and post-production, and there seems to have been real conflict between the writer Alex Garland and the director Peter Travis. But, despite the ominous rumours leaking from the set, the end result is quite remarkable. On paper this film is about as derivative as it gets, but the production team squeeze every penny out of their meagre budget on screen, and South Africa doubles nicely as a post-apocalyptic slum. The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle is exquisite, and Travis directs the hell out of the action scenes, raising it above its derivative roots. All in all then, this is a movie that manages to be a love letter to Joe Dredd without necessarily letting the fanboy comicbook sentiment get in the way of the different language of film-making; it truly gets what creator John Wagner once called ‘the fun face of fascism’.