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Review: written 13th April 2013

Tight, lean depiction of day in the life of Judge Dredd

On the face of it, this movie doesn't sound like it is going to be up to much. Minimal plot (two judges, one Dredd the other a rookie have to enter a huge tower block in pursuit of some bad guys, and have to work their way up the mega-block to the head honcho at the top, killing bad guys and trying to survive as they go), lesser known actors, limited budget for sci-fi actioner and a director who although he showed promise in Vantage Point, has spent a lot more time in television than the big screen.

And yet! With all this to overcome, it works. The milieu and the characters are interesting enough, the action brutal and undiluted enough and crucially the direction tight enough to pull you through and be left suitably entertained. In stark contrast to Stallone's bloated 1995 version, this movie gets straight to business, and business of the day is an `average day' in the life of Judge Dredd. Instead of all the backstory and character explanation, screenwriter Alex Garland has Dredd and his psychic rookie bringing their judgement in some innovative ways, hinting rather than ponderously explaining the essence of the character - although you could argue that the biting satire intended with an all powerful judge and executioner is somehow lost in this interpretation. It's an extremely effective storyline for delivering what the fans want, while allowing a fresh audience in - all in a manageable budget. Satisfyingly, the punches have not been pulled - no pandering to the censor here a la Taken 2 or Die Hard 5 to ensure a rating allowing the widest audience - the violence is brutal and gore is not short on supply, making this not one for the squeamish. Although I'm not a huge 3D fan, if you do watch this in 3D the effects are quite satisfying - it benefits from being actually shot in 3D, and not "dimensionalised" in post production. Even the music works - neither traditional or melodic, it's a pulsing and throbbing industrial score, which serves the material well.

Karl Urban manages to be less the `man with no name' and more `man with no face', channeling Clint Eastwood's minimalism into his demeanor and raspy voice, managing to convince you that there is a man behind the mask without resorting to removing the helmet, and Lena Headey is also a wonderful surprise as the villainess. In the end though it is the lean script and tight direction that make this worth watching, despite the fact that ultimately it is a lengthy series of people getting killed which doesn't actually amount to much. It has enough of a character study in it though, that I'd be interested in seeing Urban reprise the role, even if the weak box office appears to make it unlikely.

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