It's the not-so-distant future, and 800 million people are crammed into the only remaining inhabitable area in North America, a mega-city that covers the East Coast. With so many people, crime is out of control, so cops and lawyers have been replaced with judges who arrest, try and execute criminals on the spot. Dredd (Urban) is a particularly efficient judge, assigned one day to take trainee Anderson (Thirlby) with him for evaluation. But they walk into a nasty gang war in a 200-storey tower block, where snarling gang boss Ma-Ma (Headey) locks them in and starts hunting them down. And while Dredd and Anderson have to be careful not to kill the block's innocent residents, Ma-ma doesn't care how many people die.
The narrative is as focussed as Dredd is, never distracted by sideplots or unnecessary details. But as the film progresses, we learn all sorts of telling things about the characters that deepen each scene and make it much more exciting than we expect. As the judges search to the top of the tower, director Travis and writer Garland take us through a series of breathtaking set-pieces that are both astoundingly violent and massively involving. Effects are deployed only in meaningful sequences such as when someone ingests the illicit slo-mo drug that's at the centre of the plot, or when Anderson uses her empathic psychic abilities to dig around in someone's brain.
Remarkably, Urban delivers a fiercely layered performance even though we never see his eyes under his helmet. Thirbly and Headey don't get helmets, so we can see all kinds of subtext in their busy eyes. And there are key side characters played by Gleeson (as a frazzled techie), Harris (as an annoyed hostage) and Grier (as Ma-Ma's thuggish sidekick). What all of this proves is that big, action-packed action thrillers don't need to be stupid.
Run time: 95 mins
In Theaters: Friday 21st September 2012
Box Office USA: $13.4M
Box Office Worldwide: $41M
Distributed by: Lionsgate Films
Production compaines: DNA Films, Reliance BIG Entertainment, IM Global
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Fresh: 114 Rotten: 33
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Pete Travis
Screenwriter: Alex Garland
Starring: Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, Olivia Thirlby as Anderson, Lena Headey as Ma-Ma, Wood Harris as Kay, Jason Cope as Zwirner, Domhnall Gleeson as Clan Techie, Rakie Ayola as Chief Judge, Deobia Oparei as Paramedic TJ, Langley Kirkwood as Judge Lex, Warrick Grier as Caleb, Scott Sparrow as Japhet, Porteus Xandau as Driver, Joe Vaz as Big Joe, Nicole Bailey as Cathy, Karl Thaning as Judge Chan
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