Mostly on the impetus of some strongly positive reviews from podcasts I’ve listened to, I managed to catch the film DREDD, at one of the last theaters it was still playing at in my area. Left to my own impetus, I would have waited to rent it free at the library.
Having just seen it I can say that would have been the right decision. I didn’t like the film, and perhaps more accurately I didn’t enjoy the film.
The dictionary defines vile as morally debased, depraved or despicable; and that’s the word that came to mind while watching DREDD.
I understand violence and action, I am very much a child of the cinema of Sam Peckinpah and John Woo. But Action and violence must always be rooted in some moral underpinning, some moral compass, it must be part of a larger tapestry of a story to have some resonance or meaning or point. It must have heroes.
A violent film devoid of any of that, for me has always been the true definition of pornography. It is NATURAL BORN KILLERS or SIN CITY or insert garbage film here. It is an ugly video game.
That’s what DREDD was to me in the summation, an ugly, rudderless video game. Part of this wave of movies that is about Police launching paramilitary style raids in civilian centers and killing indiscriminately.
I like JUDGE DREDD in the comic book format, his stories are short and pithy, and the world and violence he dispenses more cartoony and satiric. He is something not to take too seriously, and is often slightly buffoonish. However, this film is a very ugly and graphic portrayal, and none of it sat well with me.
In many ways our fictional heroes and films define us, I know they certainly defined me growing up. We are socialized into what is acceptable by the codes of our heroes. DREDD is a film where the title character engages in police brutality/torture, mass murder and maiming, and all of it done with a seeming arbitrariness and lack of reflection, that makes both character and film… soulless.
And also because so much of the history of film has to do with reinforcing and creating stereotypes, I’m also very aware of color coded films. Films where any substantive male Black characters are presented villainized and when possible denigrated. Films with Black faces, but White messages. ‘Police Brutality against Blacks is acceptable and humorous’ to go by the giggling in some parts of the audience during scenes in DREDD, and the emasculation of the only substantive Black Man in the film by having him get beat up by the White men and women around him.
If his treatment was counterpointed by actively, strong Black Male characters in the film that would have made his treatment a story point, but devoid of any strong positive Black male images in the film, the treatment of the sole substantive Black Male character becomes a focal point. It becomes a message.
It becomes a new age Minstrel show. Black faces and White messages. And it is sad that there are always actors of color hungry enough to take such roles and debase themselves to make certain people through their fiction feel less threatened in the facts of their lives.
We are socialized by these messages. There is no stronger socialization tool for our young (and if you don’t think the young will be seeing this movie on DVD and TV you are mistaken). Movies make a billion dollars worldwide because they speak to people. They can move and shape people.
But we must always be wary of the language they speak to us in, and what they shape us to be.
So for that reason, and the lack of a hero, the lack of any real story, the indiscriminate meat grinder killing of bystanders, and the general seamy atmosphere, DREDD is a movie I did not hate, but I did not like. It was an unsatisfying meal, and one I will not be trying again.
I much prefer the Stallone JUDGE DREDD to be honest, yes it has the awful Rob Schneider in it, but him aside, I like Stallone’s Dredd, and I like some of the scenes in that movie a lot. My favorite being the Judge’s walk into the cursed Earth. There’s a heart to the goofy Stallone JUDGE DREDD movie that I will take over the heartless nature of this new DREDD movie.
So, final grade: C-. A technically well done movie, but a morally bankrupt one. Rent it if you’re curious and can get it from your local library for free, but not worth buying.