The Curmudgeon


Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Pete Travis 2012

As we all know by now, Dredd has the same premise as the Indonesian martial-arts epic The Raid: law enforcement officers are trapped in a very large and grubby apartment block with something nasty in the penthouse, and spend most of the running time being noisily pestered by members of the criminal fraternity. The Raid has a brief prologue, which courts our sympathy for one of the policemen by establishing him as a breeder, and a family-values twist at the end which looks like a vestigial graft from the early John Woo with all the emotion taken out; but the near-total lack of characterisation and the sheer monotony of the fighting ("Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! and da capo) meant that I found most of the intervening eighty minutes a frenetic bore.

Dredd labours under the disadvantage of a script by Alex Garland, not the most talented screenwriter in the world; and sure enough, even with a plot that isn't exactly LA Confidential he manages to insert the inevitable unnecessary voiceover, a monologuing bad guy (a quarter of a million should have bought better) and at least one annoying inconsistency: a fairly important execution is left to a character who has not only shown himself incompetent and been designated as such by the boss, but who doesn't even know that the judges' side-arms are booby-trapped, a fact which would surely be difficult (and pointless) to keep secret for long. The special effects are variable, and the payoff is something of an anticlimax, although (thanks to some better-than-usually justified slow-motion) not altogether a washout.

Nevertheless, Dredd does have what The Raid conspicuously lacks, namely characters. Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) is assigned to Dredd (Karl Urban) for a last-chance training day, and their sojourn in the Peach Trees slum-block means that Anderson develops from rookie to judge while Dredd's attitude towards her progresses from surly disdain to surly respect. This is neither subtle nor sophisticated, but it is a good deal better at holding the interest than a token foetus and a lot of men kicking each other. Dredd is also refreshing in its refusal to settle for the usual standby of comic-book adaptations, the Origin Story, and for its refusal to psychologise: the psychic Anderson has a poke under Dredd's consciousness during their first encounter, but is promptly warned off. The film-makers exercise similar tact: unlike the Sylvester Stallone vehicle of radioactive memory, Dredd's helmet does not come off and Dredd does not get in touch with his softer side, let alone get kissed by anyone.

In addition, there are laser mitrailleuses, a genuinely creepy villain played by Lena Headey, and a delightfully gruesome field-dressing. Certainly, Dredd should be nobody's idea of a masterpiece, but it is commendably small-scale and unpretentious in an age of high concept and epic bloat.


  • At 12:40 am , Anonymous Madame X said...

    After all the genuflecting to that borefest, The Dark Knight Rises, a lot can be said for a lack of pretension. I frankly get enough of rich guys feeling sorry for themselves in real life.

  • At 4:32 pm , Blogger Philip said...

    Even with more modest efforts, the Origin Story tends to be the favoured model. Robert E Howard wrote any number of Solomon Kane stories that could have made fine little films if adapted straight, but the film Solomon Kane ignored them all for a tearaway-redeemed plot straight off the production line. I managed to enjoy Constantine, despite its various other conventionalities, partly because it avoided the trope.


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