dir Pete Travis
scr Alex Garland
prd Alex Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich
with Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Domhnall Gleeson, Wood Harris, Warrick Grier, Nicole Bailey, Langley Kirkwood, Edwin Perry, Karl Thaning, Michele Levin, Jason Cope
release UK 7.Sep.12, US 21.Sep.12
12/UK Reliance 1h35
Moral maze: Urban, Thirlby and jarros

urban headey gleeson
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Dredd Despite sharing source material, this film is certainly not a remake of Sylvester Stallone's 1995 action romp. In fact, there's virtually no resemblance at all, which is a good thing because this turns out to be one of the most intelligent, textured thrillers of the year.

In the not-so-distant future, America is an irradiated wasteland, and 800 million people are cramped into an East Coast mega-city. With so many people, there isn't time for law and order, so judges patrol streets as cops, juries and executioners. When Judge Dredd (Urban) and trainee-judge Anderson (Thirlby) investigate a gang-related murder in a 200-story tower block, ruthless gang boss Ma-Ma (Headey) locks them inside to eliminate them and, more importantly, the gang member (Harris) they've arrested.

The narrative is linear, driving the characters inexorably upward to a big showdown. Along the way we get to know Dredd and Anderson, as well as Ma-Ma, her thuggish sidekick (Grier) and the techie (Gleeson) she uses to keep the building under her control. But all of this adds meaningful texture to their interaction, rather than mere plot manipulation. For example, Dredd's relentless single-mindedness and Anderson's more empathetic approach (she has psychic abilities) colour this duo's conflicts and camaraderie.

These insights also give the film a potent sense of moral complexity, as Dredd and Anderson must take into consideration the fact that innocent people live in the building. So the stakes are unusually high. Even with the numbing body count, there's a sense that life is important. Ma-Ma isn't as worried about this, but Headey reveals a flicker of self-doubt beneath her bravado. And even if we never see his eyes, Urban finds resonance beneath Dredd's robotic efficiency.

Director Travis keeps things visually whizzy, with whirling camerawork and terrific effects work, such as when people take the slo-mo drug that's at the centre of the plot or when Anderson takes a mind-bending foray into their prisoner's head. The violence is grislier than we expect, although it's never brushed off. And by injecting so much subtext into a claustrophobic setting, the filmmakers keep the pace brisk and urgent. Yes, it's a bombastic action thriller. But it's great to finally watch one that doesn't treat the audience like children.

cert 18 themes, language, strong violence, drugs 28.Aug.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall