Dredd (2012)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 9/21/12
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey

It's a big day for rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Having failed to pass her police academy exams, she's been given a second chance to prove herself in the field because of her rare and powerful psychic abilities. Her assessment officer is the infamous Judge Dredd (delightfully grumpy Karl Urban), and they head out to investigate what appears to be a routine triple homicide scene. However, their investigation attracts the attention of a local crime boss and drug lord named Ma-Ma (uglified Lena Headey), who traps them in a high-rise tower and orders everyone in the building to kill them. Against overwhelming odds, Dredd and Anderson make their way to the top floor to take Ma-Ma down.

The film is excessively violent and gratuitously gory, with a fondness for showing bullet impact wounds ripping people apart in ultra-slow motion. If the plot sounds a lot like "The Raid: Redemption" (2011), it's because they're nearly identical. Unfortunately, the claustrophobic setting betrays the film's modest budget and doesn't take advantage of the source material's science fiction roots. Karl Urban gives a great performance as an emotionless sourpuss, scowling and growling with disdain and righteousness. But it's Olivia Thirlby who steals the show as rookie Anderson. She's absolutely wonderful and you immediately connect with her the instant she shows up. She is the emotional anchor in the film, and her anxiety, insecurity, determination, and desperation are what propel the story forward. While she lacks field experience, she knows how to take care of herself, and her humanity and empathy are a perfect complement to Dredd's cold-hearted cynicism. Thirlby's performance is excellent, and deftly captures Anderson's youthful sense of insecurity and feminine aggression. She's also utterly adorable and has one of the cutest noses I've ever seen. Lena Headey, on the other hand, is hideous. The makeup team did an excellent job of making her unpleasant and difficult to look at.

On the surface, the film is all sound and fury - a violent blast of masturbatory gun porn, sexual frustration, adolescent male wish fulfillment, and misogyny. It's grim, ugly, and generally unpleasant. But at the same time, it's also a triumph of female action cinema. The film is Anderson's story, and about how she overcomes her doubts and fears to rise above the filth and make a difference in the crime infested world of Mega City One. She is strong throughout and the script never compromises or degrades her character. Is this feminism through exploitation? That may be giving the film too much credit, but I find the conflicted presentation fascinating and difficult to reconcile. "Dredd" is certainly not for everyone, and its ultra-violent imagery and overall nastiness can be difficult to swallow. But underneath its bloody veneer is a solid and emotionally compelling coming-of-age cop-rookie story.

In the funny credits department: Cable Buster