Pete Travis’ work as a TV and film director tends to focus on violent political histories; his films have told the story of the Omagh bombing, the attempted assassination of a US President, and the last days of apartheid in South Africa. Those who have followed Travis’ work may have been surprised at his decision to take on an adaptation of a comic strip from the science fiction anthology 2000AD. However, Dredd is a film that deals with violence and politics albeit in a very different way. Writer Alex Garland, who produced screenplays for films such as 28 Days Later (2002) and Sunshine(2007) is no stranger to creating tense and gripping tales of horror and science fiction and he does not disappoint with Dredd.
Dredd tells the story of an east-coast North-American city, Mega-City One. With 800 million people living in this post-apocalyptic mess of poverty, drugs, corruption and violence, the only order comes in the shape of uniformed Judges who act as judge, jury and executioner. It is in this city of chaos that we meet Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), a man who, as evidenced in the film’s high-octane car chase in its very first few minutes, means business. Dredd is ordered by the Chief Judge to evaluate rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a mutant psychic. Despite being unimpressed by Anderson Dredd follows orders and the two set off to Peach Trees, a colossal tower block where there has been a report of multiple homicides. The two Judges quickly become aware that Peach Trees is under the control of drug lord and psychopathic ex-prostitute, Ma-ma (Lena Headey), the sole distributor of Slo-Mo, a drug that slows down time to 1% its normal speed. When Ma-ma announces to the entire block that they are to find and kill the two judges, both Dredd and Anderson must fight to stay alive whilst making their way to Ma-ma’s stronghold on the 200th floor of the building.
Dredd is not a film for the faint-hearted. Travis soaks the screen with blood and gore, made all the more visceral in stunning 3D. Travis’ use of 3D is plot driven, not gimmicky. As Slo-Mo slows down time for its user, the audience share the surreal and psychedelic experience of watching bullets and blood fly out of the screen towards them in slow motion. Like Mega-city One, the film’s violence is merciless and relentless, offering a brutal portrayal of Dredd’s battle to the top of Peach Trees.
John Wagner, co-creator of the comic character Judge Dredd, acted as consultant on the film. This is apparent in the similarity of tone between Dredd and the early strips, which first appeared in 1977, sketching Dredd as the archetype of a violent lawman who dispensed justice in a callous and efficient manner.
Other names from the world of comics, such as Jock, a comic artist who has worked on Dredd for a number of years, had a significant input on the aesthetic of the film from its costume designs to its cityscapes. Jock has created a realistic and gritty look to the film that is reminiscent of post-apocalyptic films of the 70s and 80s, such as John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and Escape from New York (1981). With the same emphasis on characterisation, tight plotting and fast pacing, at 95 minutes running time, Dredd is an almost flawless piece of filmmaking with impressive and controlled performances from the likes of Urban and Headey. Whether you are a fan of the comic or not, Dredd stands out as a stern and seriously entertaining work. Not to be missed.