Minutia Madness: Dredd
By Bret Dorman
(As always, SPOILERS! may apply to the movie in discussion.)
Everyone knows what makes a movie good. Blurbs like “compelling”, “powerful”, and “explosive non stop thrill ride that will leave you on the edge of your seat!” are common place on movie posters. In reviews (including my own) people point out how the direction is “great”, how the writing is “awesome”, and how the acting is “wonderful”. Every once in a while you can find a really great essay from a smart film critic (a real one) or film maker that actually explains why a movie is good and helps you as a viewer become a better film watcher.
But what about those small moments that fall in between the cracks? I understand the need to talk about a movie in the broad sense, its the easiest most SPOILER! free way of saying if you liked or didn’t like a movie. I prefer people to talk in specifics, to actually know why something is good or bad. But this goes beyond all that. This is blowing the tiniest detail way out of proportion. This is what makes me a film nerd. This is Minutia Madness!!!
Written by Alex Garland; Directed by Pete Travis
Another way the movie stands out is by opening on an action scene, which is a dying art. After a brief sci-fi world establishing montage-ologue, this action scene not only provides a visceral and badass opening to the movie, it provides a thesis for the character.
Some might think that negotiating with the “hot shot” shows how Dredd is unwilling to bargain and follows the rules no matter what. This is true. However, by the end his character does change. At first he declines Anderson’s special status saying a fail is a fail. But throughout the film we see him bend the rules, treat each situation differently. He gives a bum a second chance. He desperately switches to stun when taking on some punk kids just seconds after stating he doesn’t mind putting them in body bags. And ultimately he accepts Anderson’s using the system to dispense a more “admirable” form of ‘difference-making’ sentencing, that is truly more fair than what Dredd himself may have done given the information he had.
So then in this opening scene, what is the theme that remains constant? The drive of the character? It is shown in just 7 seconds that echoes through the entire movie. Take a look:
Right there. At 2:38. Dredd gets off his Lawmaster Motorcycle and walks to the van. He takes his gun out of his holster. And he charges his way over at a distinctly assured pace. In this moment the camera shows you everything you need: Dredd’s calm and commanding composure under pressure, his willingness to act with violence in response to violence (especially when innocent people are at risk), and how Dredd as a character is always moving forward.I’m not a “Dredd head.” I’ve never read the comics. So for me the whole helmet this was never really a *huge* deal. In addition to never showing his face, the movie really highlights its main character’s lack of movie star face time in other ways. By remaining behind the character and below the waist, Dredd here is more of a Force for Justice than a singular entity. And there are plenty of times where he must rely on his public persona to intimidate and out maneuver his enemies.
Dredd is a character whose stature matters. After being attacked with 3 huge Gatling guns he must run and even crawl to safety. His response? To toss Ma-Ma’s right hand man off a high ledge. He doesn’t celebrate. He doesn’t taunt. He doesn’t wait for any response. He marches back into the rubble, ready to press onward.
They threw their best at him and he pushed back harder. The situation never gets the better of him. As he calls for back up he never stresses the urgency. The Judges are always outnumbered and overwhelmed. And even at the end when talking to The Chief he simply states it was a “drug bust.” This incredible circumstance is even treated as a training assessment for a rookie. For Dredd, this is all day. Everyday.
Dredd’s approach to the van is his same approach to every crime. He remains calm. He draws his gun. And presses forward. The character may change in how he sees dispensing judgement by adding more grey area, but not in how he approaches the situation itself, always ready.
So what do you think? Have I approached this situation and judged it accurately? Or am I just crazy for focusing on his minute detail?
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