I am a huge fan of the concept of justice. But in the case of Dredd 3D, justice is just an excuse to get gratuitously violent on some painfully immoral thugs.
Like in any movie where good guys are bringing a recompense down on bad guys, first you have to convince the viewer that you are dealing with some pretty nasty bad guys. Mission accomplished. The world painted by Dredd 3D does this fairly well. And this gives way to tact number two. People first have to feel like the bad guys are really bad to allow you to, tact two, reign hellfire down on them. The movie Dredd 3D brings the heat. But there is a fine line between bringing justice and slow motion blood spatter while a man’s head gets split open like a grapefruit hitting the ground from out the window of a 200-story building.
My first thought when leaving the theater was, “I hope I don’t see anyone I know when I step out the doors here.” Save your money (and brain cells.)
The Score: A one star rating would be offering too much to this wanna-be franchise. Here is the thing: I really loved watching Karl Urban in the recent Star Trek reboot and films like Red and The Bourne Supremacy. I wanted to like him here, but the over-the-top violence completely distracted me from his heartless animatronic character, which I absolutely hated. It was like a futuristic Guy Ritchie movie without the clever dialogue. Save your money on this one, folks. Zero stars.
So what works with this story? Here is what kills me the most. The story was OK. Good even. It was the characterization that killed it for me. Let me unpack that, ideologically speaking.
Like I said, I believe in justice. And if a cop is employed to protect and serve then he is not a judge. It isn’t his job to interpret the law. He is employed to enforce it. Obviously, this doesn’t play out in reality. How many of us have pleaded with a police officer to let us out of a speeding ticket? We want that mercy, despite the officer’s oath to uphold the law as it is written. Bending the law a little bit can’t be so bad, right? Of course, we all throw our hands up enraged when a cop bends the law the wrong way, right: get’s a little rough, profiles a driver and pulls them over for a ridiculous reason, etc. Bending is acceptable when it bends our way I suppose? In Dredd, the police officer is also the judge. And this version of Dredd attempts to point out some of the possible weaknesses of combining those roles. But it overreaches a number of times in ridiculous ways.
(Spoiler coming) There is a scene where one judge hesitates to execute capital punishment on a thug who pleads, “Please, don’t kill me.” We later see the judge run into that thug’s wife who is taking care of her kid, and the judge nearly apologizes to the woman. Now, setting aside any debate about capital punishment, we are quickly supposed to forget about the onslaught of bullets and mayhem reigned down on the judges by this thug and his team of thugs just moments earlier. Apparently the filmmaker would have us forget the violence-making evil thuggery simply because the character gives us puppy-eyes and pleads, “Don’t kill me!” The only thing I wanted to hear the judge say to that thugs wife would have been, “I am sorry… you married such a low life.”
In the end of the film there is a moment when a judge renders mercy on a character while giving us a soliloquy about justice being as much about extending appropriate mercy as capital punishment. And this point is celebrated in the film. And I don’t even have a problem with that, frankly. But it comes hot on the heals of a cavalcade of blood-letting bullets in artistic 120 frames-per-second slow motion tearing up the guilty and the innocent alike, by thugs and judges.
Ideologically, this is what I hate. There is a huge difference between celebrating violence, thug violence, and capital punishment. This movie makes zero distinction and that is complete crap. If I were to make an honest attempt at critiquing the film, I would then have to assess it’s ability to achieve artistic alignment with the goals for it’s messaging. And so, if the message was, “capital punishment is a gratuitously robotic merciless violence and nuanced mercy is the light at the end of that dark tunnel,” then they nailed it. But I don’t believe in those definitions or that unrealistic and unparalleled-by-reality worldview. I love mercy, and I need mercy, and I love justice, and I need justice. And the two are not a zero sum game.