“Dredd 3D,” starring Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby, reinstates the Judge in a technically admirable, but not completely enjoyable film.
Set in America’s distant future, when all but the Northeastern seaboard has been destroyed and contaminated by nuclear radiation, “Dredd 3D” focuses on the few men and women who uphold the law. They are the judges. Their job is to be the impartial “judge, jury and executioner,” dealing justice according to the laws of the land.
The judges’ jurisdiction is Mega City 1, home to 800 million residents and an extremely high rate of crime. They are only able to respond to 6% of the over 17,000 daily reported crimes, so they cannot afford to waste time with more traditional trials. Judge Dredd, a seasoned veteran of the force, gets paired with a recruit named Anderson who is trying to pass the tests to become a judge. Anderson is young and has sub-par test results, but has the special ability of being a psychic due to genetic mutations from exposure to radiation.
Not wasting any time, Dredd and Anderson become embroiled in a quest to take down the city’s head drug lord and gang leader, Ma-Ma, who resides in a 200 story slum high-rise. Ma-Ma has gained the corner on the market of a new drug called SLO-MO which makes the brain feel as if time is passing at 1% of its normal rate.
Visually, “Dredd 3D” is impressive. I’m not typically a fan of 3D films, but Dredd uses the technology effectively to highlight certain sequences. Specifically, it is most often used when showing someone under the influence of SLO-MO. Since everything slows down dramatically, every drop of blood, shard of glass and wisp of smoke comes out in crystal detail. It gives kind of a trippy sensation, setting a stark contrast to the rest of the film. However, this also emphasizes the violence in the film, which certainly earns its “R” rating.
On the narrative side of things, Dredd is very simplistic. Basically the whole movie takes place in one apartment building and the whole premise of the film is to bring the drug lord to justice. Although the story is simple, its examination of concepts like justice keep things more cerebral than just two cops killing dozens of thugs. Judge Dredd always wears his helmet which obscures everything but his expressionless mouth. Completely detached, he deals out justice based only on the crime committed; however, Anderson, who never wears a helmet because it interferes with her psychic abilities, has the ability to look beyond the crime itself and into why the perpetrator committed it. Throughout the film she struggles with handing out the blind and objective justice of Dredd and giving some a second chance since she can see, subjectively, the reasons behind the crimes.
Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby, playing Dredd and Anderson respectively, fill their roles well. Urban never changes his grim, callous expression throughout the film in keeping with his character. Thirlby, on the other hand, understands how to act as the rookie judge trying to restrain her emotions to perform her job impartially. Thirlby also gets the honor of playing the only likable character in the film. The villains are heinously evil, and the rest of the judges show such a complete lack of emotion that it becomes impossible to sympathize with them as people.