VOD film review: Dredd
James R | On 28, Mar 2021
Director: Pete Travis
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
The 201 conic book adaptation Dredd wasn’t exactly a cinema hit. A box office flop, it struggled slightly due to the fact that it was an 18 certificate, as well as the fact that it highly resembled Gareth Evans’ The Raid. But its single-location take on the 200AD character of Judge Dread stands the test of time as an increasingly impressive and interesting blockbuster.
Karl Urban is on superbly grizzly form as the glowering super-cop, a constant force of justice with a ruthless streak to enforce it. He’s a world away from Sylvester Stallone’s 1995 incarnation of John Wagner’s lawman, giving a performance that’s charismatically physical and intimidating blunt, delivering every line and blow with a monosyllabic heft. He even gets a slight hint of character development as the one-note figure bludgeons his way out of a tight spot with a deadpan efficiency.
That spot, to be precise, is a rundown estate called Peach Trees, ruled over by crime lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Venturing in with the support of rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), the duo find themselves locked in the tower block surrounded by henchmen, residents and allies all trying to hunt them down under Ma-Ma’s orders.
The script doesn’t get more complicated than that, with Thirlby’s innocent sidekick giving us someone to root for between Urban’s immovable hero and Headey’s equal and opposite villain. Instead, it falls to the action to drive things forward, and the relentless run of set pieces and confrontations builds momentum the more floors that Dredd and Anderson work through.
Of course, all this carnage can’t compete with The Raid’s strikingly creative approach to fisticuffs, but director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland craft a memorable, believable work full of murky backdrops, post-apocalyptic grime and grimly desperate characters. The film particularly bursts to life when Ma-Ma drug cocktail of choice is taken by people on-screen, sending the whole frame into a vivid tapestry of bright colours that unfolds at a fraction of normal speed – while the film unfolds almost in real-time, those moments where the pace confidently switches things up are a visually stunning achievement.
All of this is even more impressive when taking into account the reports (including from Urban) that Travis allegedly became less involved in the film as production and post-production went on, with Garland instead taking the creative lead. That gives Dredd a reputation and intrigue that goes beyond its own Raid-like spectacle, as it becomes instead an almost-directorial-debut for Garland, a legacy that, thanks to the filmmaker’s later credits of Ex Machina and Annihilation, stands up all on its own.