Dredd Is The Stylish 80s Action Film Expendables Wanted To Be
By Alex Cranz
Pop culture likes to move in these twenty-thirty year cycles and it makes sense. As kids grow up they like to rehash all the stuff from their childhoods they loved. That’s why Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek are never quite lost to us.
The gritty 80s-early 90s action film has inspired a lot of films lately. Red Dawn. Expendables. Rambo. Stallone’s career in general. Hell, Universal Soldier 4 exists and is getting a theatrical release. I’ve no doubt Michael Dudikoff will soon zipline into a Hemsworth brothers starring action film and explode someone’s head with a throwing star. But in this grand effort to revisit my childhood and some director’s pimply teenage years things have gotten a little…glossy. There’s a manufactured cleanliness to these films that comes with the rise of CGI.
It’s more a 2010 reflection of our youth–ostensibly stronger, faster and better but more often that not just a quickly forgotten reboot or ode to the 80s.
And then I sat down and watched Dredd on his dinky motorcycle racing down a highway and weaving in between cheap boxy import vans. It’s a crime riddled dirty mess of a city. A mishmash of mile high slums and row houses no one could be bothered to tear down. And the closest thing a studio action film has gotten to the 80s since the 80s.
The gore. The violence. The outrageously evil and worthless thugs. Even the LEDs on Dredd’s gun. They’re 80s-tastic in the best way possible.
That’s not to say there isn’t a modern and stylish flare to the film. Dredd and the rookie Anderson are locked in a 75,000 person strong slum and forced to hunt drug dealers unloading “Slow.” The drugs causes people to perceive the world through the filter of the sparkliest slow mo cam ever. If you’ve watched Mythbusters and thought THAT was slow motion porn then be prepared for something special. Dredd 3D fully embraced the delightfully gory possibilities of bullets slowly exploding heads and people slowly plummeting to their deaths but director Pete Travis wisely holds back. He never lets the style overwhelm the film so each trip to slo-ville becomes a treat.
The screen grows vibrant. Glass, tears and sweat sparkles. And violence is beautifully unleashed.
The marked reserve in a genre usually known for its chaotic excess isn’t limited to Travis’s smart direction. Alex Garland, known for writing almost every single one of Danny Boyle’s genre films, has crafted a lean script. There’s no extraneous romantic subplots. We don’t have to suffer through some labyrinthine plot. A cop, Dredd, is tasked with taking a prospect, Anderson, out for a single day to judge whether or not she’s fit to be a Judge. Then they get caught in a tower full of criminals who want them dead and Lena Headey sneers at them behind one of the best prosthetic scars I’ve ever seen.
A satisfying mentor relationship evolves–perhaps one of the most satisfying mentor relationships on film this year. There’s a grudging respect between her wide-eyed intonations and his raspy growl. He’s never soft, because this is an adaptation of 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd and the character wouldn’t know empathy if it bit him in the ass. But she’s never as weepy as those big eyes might suggest. Olivia Thirlby gives Anderson an edge and she and Garland’s script refuse to turn her into the empathetic bleeding heart we’ve come to constantly expect women to be in action films.
But Thirlby wisely doesn’t relish that edge either. She plays Anderson with the same calm efficiency as Karl Urban’s Dredd. These are professional badass cops that shoot rockets out of their pistols and hold the lives of everyone they meet in their hands and they’re both incredibly comfortable with that terrifying power.
“I am the law,” Urban as Dredd growls. And by God you believe it. There’s none of the petulance seen in Sylvester Stallone’s Dredd. Urban’s is fully committed to law. To the point of maybe being a little authoritarian. His flaws are only in the fascism that powers him through every fight.
It’s a brave choice. We’ve grown so used to weary heroes forced back into one last fight or scoundrels who are reluctant to use their skills to save the day. We don’t often get heroes that are fully committed to their cause–to the point of fanaticism.
But back in the 80s? Zealous supercops were the de rigueur.
And man, I’ve missed them.
- I don’t talk about Lena Headey much. That’s because she’s perfection. She never goes over the top and plays Ma Ma with quiet determination. It’s a great performance.
- Shout out to the equally stupendous Wood Harris (of The Wire). He elevates what could have been a simple thug into one of the most dangerous characters in the films and all with a look and some fantastic delivery of lines.
- I might harp on the ’95 Judge Dredd a little bit but that film will still be a guilty pleasure and a drunken twofer of these to films would make for an incredibly entertaining evening.
- Dredd only made a little over six million in it’s opening weekend. If it clears 50 million in box office receipts they’ll do two sequel. WE NEED THOSE SEQUELS. There will be zombie judges according to writer/producer Alex Garland. I want that.
- No. This is not a rip off of The Raid (it was being shot while The Raid was being cut but they’d make for a fun double feature. So find room in your heart for more than one cops trapped in a building movie because they BOTH deserve love.