Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

by Will Ross

If we can agree that Dredd is cool and fun — and I think it is — the next most important point of contention is whether or not it is a fascist film. It does, after all, have fascist heroes: in an enormous, dystopic future city called Mega-City One, highly trained police called “Judges” are allowed to pursue criminals and dispense sentencing and judgement themselves — including execution. A famous judge known only as Dredd (Karl Urban) is asked to do a one-day field assessment of a rookie judge, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who has come up just short on physical tests but is highly valued for her proficient psychic abilities.

Their day begins and ends with a response to a triple homicide in one of the city’s “blocks,” enormous, community-housing, skyscraping buildings. When they arrive, they are locked in by crime lord “Ma-Ma” (Lena Headey) to prevent them from interrogating a hostage with critical information. After Ma-Ma orders all the thugs throughout the building to kill the judges, Dredd and Anderson fight their way through the building to survive. What follows is a chain of gratuitously violent action set pieces.

If that plot synopsis causes deja vu for those who have seen The Raid: Redemption, it should. It is, in many ways, both the film I wanted The Raid to be and the one I’m glad it wasn’t. For while 
Dredd handles its downtime far better — it’s packed with distinctive characters with worthwhile arcs — it lacks The Raid’s sense of danger: the near-superhuman Dredd effortlessly guns his way through endless thugs, and is rarely met with a real threat.

But though the action’s stakes sometimes get a little slack, Dredd is too colourful to ever feel boring, particularly (and literally) in its occasional super-slow-motion sequences, wherein we see the action through the eyes of users of a drug that slows their perception of time to one per cent of its regular speed. This makes for gleefully excessive body carnage, as we see in detail how the skin of a cheek or belly fat ripples and bursts when bullets pass through. The drug is, really and actually, called “slo-mo,” as if to say up front, “This drug causes a movie effect to happen.”

And in some movies, that would just be stupid, but in Dredd it’s one of the movie’s many signals that we are watching a self-aware exercise in smooth, comic book-styled shootouts. It’s there in the constant C-shaped frown of Karl Urban’s Dredd. It’s there in the purposeful fakeness of the shiny CGI blood. It’s there in Headey’s best-in-show performance as the scarred and psychopathic villain Ma-Ma, whose calm, whispery voice is shot through with little quavers and twitches that make her an unmistakably deranged, broken, and dangerous woman.

It’s a heightened coolness that the creative crew was clearly committed to. Pete Travis’s direction, though not up to the platinum standard of Gareth Evans’s work in
The Raid, shows an expert grasp of action blocking, frequently putting walls, faces and objects on the side of the screen and snaking the camera around to keep tension building and movements clear. The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle, Danny Boyle’s DP of choice, shows off his digital cred with high colour saturation (including his characteristic yellow-orange look) and a fearless acceptance of digital noise. And the script by Alex Garland, a fellow Boyle alum, pulls out all the stops to make Dredd just about as easy to cheer for as a shockingly violent, hard-R bloodstravaganza about fascist cops can be.

And just because a movie is about fascist cops, and even glamorizes their actions, doesn’t make it a fascist film. The movie is a slick cartoon, impossible to take very seriously, and it never glorifies its characters’ fascism; instead, it uses their fascist trappings as a pretext for sick-ass pulp. Unlike Dirty Harry, which took pains to locate its argument against the legal system in our own real world, Mega-City One is unmistakably removed from any real-world politics. Dredd’s baseline amorality paves the way for a movie that is, if not insightful, far more entertaining than any number of movies that don’t have the balls to go there.


Post a Comment