Dredd (2012) review

Rated: 4/5

Intro

Hey everyone (anyone) who follows this blog.  Been a small while since I’ve posted.  Well, some house remodeling has been going on, on top of my part time job temporarily becoming a full-time job.  Haven’t had much free time to get a hold of a movie that is worth reviewing in length.  On top of that, been playing through The Witcher 3, thought about posting the review in portions, by making a post and updating it off and on.  Have to admit, playing and reviewing games is a bigger pain in the ass than watching and reviewing films.  So I’ve dug into the archives of stuff I’ve done in the past on previous websites, and found this one that you might like, to hold you over ’till I get my stride back.  First there’s the review, then a debate I had with another individual who made his own review, and brought up points I disagreed with.

Review

The film opens amidst a dry and desolate wasteland, the a blurred yet large city in the background. Dredd narrates, saying that the city is cursed, just like the wasteland that surrounds it. America, in an era after the apocalypse (I assume), except that there is still a government and a society, has become one large gigantic unified city under one rule, the city walls separating citizens from the outside where there is nothing left to live on due to radioactivity and the mutations it can cause.

 

Despite this, crime is everywhere. Despite the existence of the judges to try and keep some kind of order, they are only able to respond to 6% of the overall crimes that happen. Their existence seems futile. Dredd seems to know this. As the Rookie points out, Dredd is full of anger, control, and “something else behind the control.” The anger is because of the crimes. Whether it is because it exists despite his efforts and the efforts of the judges, or the fact that it is so rampant regardless of order or lack thereof, is unknown. Either way, he is passionate about “the law.” The law is what upholds what little order that is left. The law is what prevents society from completely breaking down. Or at least that’s what he believes the law in its current form does.

I haven’t seen the first Judge Dredd movie in its entirety, but I know it tries to cover that aspect of the universe more than this film. It’s cheesier and not as good of a movie, but its there. But maybe it’s that way because it delves too much into that compared to this movie which keeps things more focused, mainly in one district, one building, which is big enough to be considered a city in of itself, a mini-mega-city.

Peach Trees. Sounds like a strip club doesn’t it? Well maybe there’s something more to the name. A bunch of trees that grow peaches. Peaches are people? They can become rotten or ripe? Infested by bugs that make the peaches no good? People are ripe for the taking when it comes to getting them hooked on drugs or crime? Peaches have to be cared for as the law tries to do, similar to a gardener? Or perhaps the name itself is to sound like a strip club to show that even the most innocent of objects like a peach tree can have its name used for seedy purposes by becoming associated with a strip club sounding name, or a place that has so much wrong with it. Who knows for sure?

The Dredd character himself enters the movie with his face/figure shrouded in darkness, not wanting to have the light be shed upon himself. Once the mask is on, he walks into the light freely. The mask gives him that sense and presence of control. He doesn’t want to be seen as vulnerable without it. Whatever is behind it, the Rookie Anderson caught a glimpse of it, and found it curious.

Mama Madeline enters the film in the opposite way. Light is completely shed upon her as she bathes naked in a bathtub. Despite her seeming vulnerable state, she never feels not in control. She never feels vulnerable, and isn’t afraid to reveal who and what she really is. A woman who isn’t afraid to kill her way to the top and run a drug empire to gain control of Peach trees, and eventually more of Mega-City 1. She has ambition. Dredd doesn’t seem to have much ambition, though it could be that he keeps that ambition hidden within his shell of control.

Dredd doesn’t believe a difference can be made in the world, though he find’s Anderson’s belief that she can make a difference “admirable,” albeit in a futile sense. It might be that this is Dredd’s ambition, but he has no faith in it. And yet there seems to be proof early on that an individual can make a difference. Madeline has gained control of Peach Trees with her own gang, a feat that had previously not been achieved as far as we know, as it had previously been run by 3+ gangs on different levels of the building. Control. A control that has been sustained through fear, a fear that rises whenever it falls due to public displays of what happens when Mama is crossed. The citizens of Peach Trees fear her.

This fear of Madeline begins to fall once Dredd and Anderson arrive and begin wiping out Mama’s gang one group at a time. At first the citizens fear the judges because they don’t want to be associated with them for fear of Mama’s wrath. But gradually it changes, as they begin to fear Dredd because of the body count he makes, and the fact that Mama isn’t able to deal with him the way she normally deals with others.

Madeline makes a speech once the lockdown begins to let the citizens know that she is in control, and that the judges will die, along with anyone else who gets in her way of dealing with them. Later on, Dredd does that same, excepting making the threat to Madeline. Madeline tosses rival gang members over the edge of one of the floors to their doom to dissuade others from crossing her again, putting fear into them. Dredd does the same with one of her men, with the hopes of instilling fear into her and her men.

Back to Dredd’s thoughts on the inability of making a difference. Once the 4 crooked judges show up, one mentions that he was a follower of the law for a while, until he realized that it’s pointless to do so. “It’s [Mega-City 1] a fucking meat grinder. People go in one end, and meat comes out the other. All we do is turn the handle.” Because they don’t see a purpose to their duty, they act selfishly rather than selflessly, believing in self-reward rather than serving a supposedly noble cause.

To counter this is Anderson. During the final act of the film, she let’s the computer geek go after seeing what his past was like. Dredd states that he deserves punishment for aiding Madeline. She respond, “He’s a victim, not a perp and until my assessment is formally over, I’m still entitled to dispense justice. And that’s what I just did by letting him go. Maybe that will be the one difference I do make.” In other words, being merciful is the one way to make a difference, not being a hardass all the time and distilling fear into the population, whether criminal or an officer of the law. Dredd realizes that this is the case, so instead of sticking with his normal route of conduct at the end and failing Anderson for losing her weapon, he decides to pass her on the assessment, knowing that it will do more good than harm to do so. There should be more to gaining control of a population than just fear alone.

Definitely more depth to this movie for something that is disguised as a solid B action film. Highly recommended.

**********************************************************

As for you ScreeningNotes, judgment time.

Dredd’s famous line “I am the law” takes on a double meaning in relation to Kafka’s “Before the Law”. The intended meaning of his statement appears to be an assertion that he has more authority than Ma-Ma, a status which is confirmed in the opening voice-over (explaining that each Judge is also “jury and executioner,” unilaterally wielding the full force of the law). However, in the context of Kafka’s parable, it takes on a new meaning: that Dredd’s subjectivity has been vacated and replaced by the objectivity law. This is verified in an early scene where the new recruit attempts to use her psychic abilities to read his mind, but stops before she reaches beneath the surface. There’s nothing there. His identity has been wiped. Throughout the film, Dredd’s mysterious past is never revealed, and his character is never given any introspection. He passed through the gate of the law and came out the other side reincarnated as a physical embodiment of it. He is the law.

But in completely becoming the law he has not only lost his subjectivity, he has also come to embody the paradox of the law. He has been taken over by its objective dimension.”

I don’t believe it’s quite that simple. I think that Dredd believes he should be the embodiment of the law in the way you mention, but is not. This is because there are some instances in which he goes against his by-the-book behavior. He states that the crime for the attempted murder of a judge is death. Yet when it came to those two kids who pointed guns at him by the elevator, he set his gun to stun rather than kill. Plus there’s his ultimate decision on Anderson’s assessment. Those moments indicate that he’s not as objective as he may appear. Plus, the fact that Anderson indicates that there is something within Dredd, something “behind the control,” which may indicate that Dredd doesn’t fully believe he is always in control, or that he doesn’t fully buy into his beliefs in the law. It’s an assumption, but I do believe it’s also a theory that holds some weight.

This parallel between the law and its criminal transgression is represented in the relationship between the act of violence which opens the film and calls the attention of the Judges and the act of violence which functions as retribution for that violence. At the beginning of the film, Ma-Ma punishes three of the men in her clan by intoxicating them with Slo-Mo and dropping them from the top of the gigantic Peach Trees building, traumatically elongating their fatal fall. Judge Dredd arrives on the scene to dispense justice, and after fighting his way up the building and finally reaching Ma-Ma, he reenacts this very same act of violence which he intended to punish: he intoxicates Ma-Ma with Slo-Mo and pushes her off the top of the Peach Trees building. This mirrored relationship between Ma-Ma punishing her minions and Dredd punishing Ma-Ma draws a distinct analogy between the law and the crime it is intended to remedy.

Not only are Ma-Ma and Dredd similar in the way they solve their problems, they are both in control of regions which, despite their rule, are flourishing with violent crime (the Peach Trees building; Mega-City One). Ma-Ma must kill her own to maintain her dominance; the Judges are “fighting for order in the chaos” while the “citizens [live] in fear of the street.” The city is described as the “ruin of the old world” “breaking under its own weight.” The Judges may be trying to bring order, but it’s not working. As Dredd himself explains, “Twelve serious crimes reported every minute, seventeen thousand per day. We can respond to around six percent.” Dredd draws out the identical relationship between the law and its criminal transgression in the identification of the Peach Trees building with Mega-City One. Vacated of its subjective dimension, the law is no different from the crime it fights.

That’s the most important line in the argument, “Vacated of its subjective dimension, the law is no different from the crime it fights.” But there is a subjective dimension to consider. Dredd never really reveals this dimension himself, and the comics upon which the film is based on are the same. The character of Dredd is revealed not through him, but through those around him. Anderson reveals that there is subjectivity amidst Dredd’s objective characteristics. In fact, her very character is the embodiment of subjective law that is willing to show mercy when fit. There was a time early on when she didn’t when she first offs a perp at Dredd’s command, even though he was wounded and defenseless, though he tried to kill them both. She finds out later that he was a father with a family. She questions as to whether or not she made the right decision. Later on, even though she has become more hardened, and is arguably more of a veteran now than a rookie, she lets the hacker guy go despite his crimes, and she has a clear conscience about it. The one clear time Dredd makes a decision similar to hers is when he makes the ultimate decision about her career at the end of the movie, in that it’s a decision made with subjectivity rather than his usual objective nature. It’s a decision that may make a difference.

And as for how Dredd handled Mama in the end, while it is similar to how she handled the three men early on in the film, I argue that he slow-mo’d her out the window for a couple different reasons. He dosed her to slow her heart rate down a few notches, and to prolong her death. She was already bleeding out from the shot to the kidney, and there was a chance she may have died before she hit the bottom. That, or she may have tried to rip the transceiver out of her arm, or do something with it to cause the explosion to go off prematurely. Slow-moing her ensured that neither of those would happen, and would also ensure that her heartbeat would last as long as possible until the signal was beyond the reach of the bomb detonator.

I don’t think the movie draws that distinction between Dredd and Ma-Ma. Is Dredd not also building an empire? The whole opening presentation of MegaCity One with its voiceover about how overrun with crime the city is matches directly to the presentation of the peach trees building. The film even shoots the exterior of the hall of judges the same way it shoots the peach trees building. They are both shown as empires, with one merely bigger than the other.

Good point on the analogy, but I don’t think judge is building an empire so much as trying to maintain one that is already in place, albeit weakly. Peach Trees is definitely meant to be an analogy for Mega City 1 and bringing its problems and issues from a large scale to a smaller scale. To show how the law struggles to gain control. The issue is, after the events of the film, does the law maintain control? Probably not. Will things be better than they were before? Debatable.

I really disagree that Dredd is trying at all to avoid collateral damage. He causes at least as much destruction as Ma-Ma. The movie is incredibly violent, and Dredd is the agent of that destruction more than the savior. Most important of all, both the film and the character delight in that violence (Dredd enjoys using that hotshot bullet for instance, and the movie enjoys the violence by presenting it in a very colorful and cartoonish style). Do you think we’re meant to see him as a heroic figure? Because his punishment isn’t one that “fits” the crime, it literally is an exact reproduction of the crime, down to the last detail of forcing Ma-Ma to take Slo Mo. It’s easy to suggest that a lighter method of law enforcement might not work in this society, but I don’t see that Dredd is doing anything to correct the situation either (i.e. even if something else might not be better, this isn’t good). What really troubles me is the analogy to recent police violence in our real world, and if we take film as a reflection of society then Dredd presents a disturbing vision of a world where an eye for an eye is about to leave the whole world blind.

He causes destruction, but never to civilians who try to stay out of the way, thus no collateral damage. It’s always against those who point a gun at him, save for their prisoner whom he beat the shit out of for the sake of interrogation at one point. But that scene brings up another disturbing element. Dredd tortures the prisoner physically, Anderson does so mentally; despite the fact that she is characterized as a more sympathetic officer, her method is probably more harsh than Dredd’s, albeit more effective.

Anyway, compared to Mama who decimates an entire floor of people trying to kill Dredd, he’s a saint in regards to collateral damage.

Discussed the handling of Mama in a previous paragraph.

Yes, there are some troubling analogies in this film compared to reality. But like any film and form of art, the message can be taken differently. I take the message as: The law may be objective, but carrying it out should be done in a subjective yet fair manner. It takes subjectivity to make officers of the law to avoid acting like the criminals they put away, but the risk remains for it to go the other way.

Posts responded to:
ScreeningNotes review

PS: …Yeah.




Post-review discussion.

ScreeningNotes:

*Point-by-point*

Re: Dredd as law in its objective dimension (“He is the law”) – I don’t think Dredd ever acts against the books. If you want to take the moment he stuns the kids instead of killing them, I don’t think they ever actually posed a real threat to his life (they don’t fire until he makes a move, and then they shoot wildly—not to mention the simple fact that they’re just stupid kids). Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but who knows, there could be exceptions for children or any number of other things. The only other example is the decision he makes to pass Anderson at the end of the movie, and I’ll give you that, but I think that makes sense for reasons I’ll get into below (long story short, I think he’s changed). More than anything else, I just don’t see any moment where Dredd is violating the letter of the law, and certainly not the spirit of the law. The law is his whole motivating force. You might be right that parts of my reading are oversimplified, though, and thanks to our discussion I’ve changed my reading slightly (again, more on that below).

Re: Dredd as law “vacated of its subjective dimension” – I think you’re right to a certain extent. I’ll concede that Dredd does have some subjectivity, but I think his first instinct is to uphold the law even if it means using violent methods. I think this is something which was instilled in him as a result of this violent environment he exists in, which is an environment where law is no different from the crime it fights. I buy your argument that Dredd’s character is revealed by those around him, but until the moment at the end where he decides to pass Anderson, this defines him as a ruthlessly violent man. He is always killing people and telling Anderson to kill people, and she resists, but he doesn’t respond to that resistance until the end of the movie. He is violent in a way which aligns him with the crime he fights, but Anderson makes him question that violence (eventually).

I really don’t buy your idea that Dredd slo-mo’s Ma-Ma in order to slow down her heart rate. If there was supposed to be any anxiety that she might die before she hit the bottom of the building the movie certainly didn’t communicate it. If he thought she was going to rip the transceiver out of her arm (something which, again, the movie doesn’t give us), it would if anything be easier after being slo-mo’d since she would have more time to react and do it. Plus, I don’t think it’s ever made clear that the drug even slows the heart. It makes the brain feel as if time is moving slower, but maybe it does this by speeding up the heart and pumping more blood into the brain. But, as before, more than anything I just don’t think either of those reasons (even if they made sense, which I don’t think they do) is more powerful than the poetic symbolism of the parallel between the opening and closing deaths.

Re: Mega-City 1 vs Peach Trees – I’m really curious what you think happens after the movie ends, because I think that indicates whether or not the film itself is optimistic or pessimistic. I think it’s possible to say that Domhnall Gleeson’s character becomes basically another Anderson, working to help change the world for the better, and that the change Anderson has affected in Dredd is a step in the right direction (optimistic ending). But I also think it’s possible to read the return to the narration about Mega City 1 as an indication that things will return to exactly the way they were before. If this is the case, is the ending still pessimistic? Or is there something potentially emancipatory in the idea that Dredd is becoming more human (more hopeful) even in spite of the lack of change? They can only respond to 6% of crimes, but if the 6% they respond to is on the scale of Ma-Ma (who controls the manufacture and distribution of slo-mo for the entire city), then do you think they can eventually make a change?

Re: Dredd’s destruction/violence – You’re right that Dredd never harms civilians, because to do so would be strictly unlawful. There’s always a legal reason for his violence, but that doesn’t make it justified morally speaking. As to the distinction between Anderson & Dredd’s torture methods, I don’t think the movie tells us that one is worse than the other, and even if it does I think that undercuts your reading to some extent (i.e. Anderson’s humanist tendencies are actually more violent).

*Overall re-interpretation*

One of the primary differences in our readings comes from our different interpretations of the moment where Anderson reads Dredd’s mind. I interpreted this moment as a sort of meta moment where the movie is turning to the audience and saying that there’s no point in looking “behind the control” because there’s nothing there, because he’s an enigma on purpose. This is a common mechanic particularly in b-movies (which I think we agree this is an intelligent homage to) to create mysterious, dark pasts for their protagonists, and I filled this mysterious dark past with my reading of the objectivity of the law.

Correct me if I’m mistaken, but you seem to have interpreted it more as a character moment, as saying that there really is something behind the control. I think this is a reasonable assumption, since after all Anderson is never wrong any other time she uses her psychic abilities in the film. It would be consistent to assume that she’s right here, and that we just aren’t told what it is behind the control that constitutes the kernel of Dredd’s character. I actually like this reading of the moment a bit more than my own since it doesn’t rely on an assumption of cynical distance.

The question then is what lies behind the control. This could indicate a crack in his belief in the law as you indicate, but this doesn’t really work for me since it would run counter to his motivation in the film. I think what’s more likely is that there’s some remnant of hope for the possibility to change the world. This would not only be a logical reason to become a judge in the first place (the same reason Anderson wants to become a judge), but it would also explain Dredd’s motivation to take down Ma-Ma as well as his admiration for Anderson and the reason he makes the decision at the end of the film to pass her even though she failed. Maybe he sees something of himself in her.

That said, I think it takes him the entire movie to get to that point. At first, Dredd and Anderson are polar opposites, and the fact that you identify Anderson as the law in its subjective dimension (something I wish I had noticed myself since I think you’re spot-on) I think actually supports my thesis that Dredd is law objectified—but only at the beginning of the film. This isn’t an argument I made in my paper, but now I think that you’re right to put all this emphasis on Dredd’s decision at the end of the movie because I don’t think that’s a decision he could have made when it started. He comes to that place during his time with Anderson.

I think ultimately I’m more interested in the ideology that Dredd represents than in his character as a character. I still think the movie depicts a world in which police violence is becoming indistinguishable from criminal violence, which can be seen in the opening and closing which contextualize the story in the world of Mega-City 1 and in the numerous parallels between Dredd and Ma-Ma and between the Hall of Judges and Peach Trees (you even pointed out a few that I didn’t notice myself: in particular, that Dredd & Ma-Ma both prioritize control, and both use fear to achieve that control). Why this situation exists is unclear, but I think it’s pretty indisputable that the prevailing ideology is one of an eye for an eye which is about to leave the whole world blind to the difference between law and crime.

Where I think my initial reading begins to break down is extrapolating this distinction onto Dredd as a character. I think you’re right to put so much emphasis on Dredd’s decision to pass Anderson at the end of the movie because I think this shows growth in his character (I’m glad you make a point of this moment, since I never really knew what to make of it previously). Combined with the scene where Anderson starts to look “behind the control,” I think we can see the outline of Dredd’s character as a separate entity from the ideology of the world around him. There’s something in him which responds to Anderson’s humanism and mercy (I’m going to stick with “hope” for now, but I’m not sure that’s the best word for it), and it’s something that I think we see in the shot before he puts his helmet on (“vulnerability” to you). It’s fragile, and he seems to think it’s futile to believe in (his response to Anderson’s hope for change), but it’s still there.

Ultimately I agree with your reading that the film is about how subjective execution of the law is crucial to maintain the distinction between officers and the criminals they put away. I don’t think our readings were ever very different on the whole, except maybe in that my initial reading was more pessimistic. But I think with the idea that Dredd changes at the end of the film, that he is perhaps subjectivized by Anderson, maybe we can come to an agreement.

Me:

ReRe: Dredd as law in its objective dimension (“He is the law”)
It could very well be that there is some law about making exceptions with kids, or Dredd has his own opinions about kids, or both. Not really addressed in the film.

ReRe: Dredd as law “vacated of its subjective dimension”
I’ll admit, I was reaching when I thought of the slo-mo theory, even when I visited other forums that discussed it. The parallels between him and Mama, plus her quotes like, “You are a piece of work, so am I,” make it more obvious that that is what the movie is going for. Point to you.

ReRe: Mega-City 1 vs Peach Trees
“I’m really curious what you think happens after the movie ends, because I think that indicates whether or not the film itself is optimistic or pessimistic.”

That is left up to the viewer to decide. There is no true right or wrong answer with that, which makes my opinion strictly subjective (mine as well as say that since that’s a popular word for this discussion). Personally, I kinda hope things would get better in the long run. Society would have to change to an extent for that to do so, and Anderson is a symbol for that change beginning. And other mutants, also a symbol for change, are a high possibility. Through trial and error, it can happen.

ReRe: Dredd’s destruction/violence – You’re right that Dredd never harms civilians, because to do so would be strictly unlawful. There’s always a legal reason for his violence, but that doesn’t make it justified morally speaking. As to the distinction between Anderson & Dredd’s torture methods, I don’t think the movie tells us that one is worse than the other, and even if it does I think that undercuts your reading to some extent (i.e. Anderson’s humanist tendencies are actually more violent).

A distinction between law and ethics. Now that’s a big philosophical discussion. In a nutshell, I do believe that the law and common sense moral values don’t always mesh well together. But I’m curious as to why, exactly, you don’t think Dredd is justified morally for his kills, considering that they were in self-defense.

As for the Anderson/Dredd torture methods, I just thought it was an interesting element in the movie, and am still trying to determine what the film was saying about it beyond the scope of advancing the plot. Possibly that Anderson was becoming “like Dredd” in the ways you mentioned previously, but eventually turned away from that path later on, and encouraged Dredd to do so in the process? Or that sometimes Dredd’s way is necessary at times, even for those who want more humanism in the law?

Re: *Overall re-interpretation*
“Correct me if I’m mistaken, but you seem to have interpreted it more as a character moment, as saying that there really is something behind the control.”

No correction needed.

“The question then is what lies behind the control. This could indicate a crack in his belief in the law as you indicate, but this doesn’t really work for me since it would run counter to his motivation in the film. I think what’s more likely is that there’s some remnant of hope for the possibility to change the world.”

That sounds more accurate than what I originally stated. Follows with his, “Admirable,” remark he gave to Anderson early in the film.

I agree with everything else said.

We pretty much agreed to disagree at that point, and also point out the Renegade Cut video on Dredd which pretty much sums up both of our points.

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