Created in the 1970s on a diet of anti-heroes and Clint Eastwood’s grizzled chin, Judge Joe Dredd patrols Mega City One dispensing justice as judge, jury and sometimes overly creative executioner. With the first film outing in 1995 an overstyled (to quote Clint from Heartbreak Ridge) ‘clusterfuck’; this version had to distinguish itself from that Jean Paul Gaultier festival to hook back the fans.
Urban, starring as the main man, managed to do this well before release with the reveal that Dredd does in fact keep his helmet on. In a society that seems to revel in what gets taken off it’s refreshing to see art that values restraint, reserve and the beauty of understatement.
This reserve does not extend to the violence. This is Mega City One as the spotty youth to which I belonged imagined it. It hurts the eye to watch the misery and cheap life flow through the cracks in the radiation-stained concrete one minute and experience the magical drug-filled bliss the next.
Through this world of pitiful contradiction Dredd strides like a constant. The man’s presence is such that as his dialogue becomes ever more truncated, his impact increases to the extent he can deliver one liners without a word.
Alongside him is rookie judge Anderson (Thirlby): psychic and damaged, she is a perfect counterpoint for Dredd. With an earnest desire to ‘make a difference’ the struggle to reconcile her vision of justice with the absolutes of the world of 2000AD gives the film a depth that takes it beyond actioner and into social and moral commentary.
With a plot centred on Anderson’s first and possibly last day on the job, her character is set directly against the deliciously deviant Lena Hedley as drug lord Ma Ma. Almost a mirror to each other, both characters are scarred by the nightmare future and pushed either side of the law.
Dredd occupies the centre: implacable, unreadable. Like Harry Callaghan before him, if we ever asked him why he did what he did, day after day, year after year, well, we’d never believe him if he told us.
9 out of 10