The Fashionably Late Review: Dredd and Looper
(Ed. note: The Fashionably Late Review is a critique of a film released in the last two years — with spoilers, so it can be appropriately reviewed in its entirety. So be warned. If you really wanted to see the following film, you’d have seen it by now.)
As I also noted in the FLR for Zombieland and Pandorum, the two movies in question have no connection other than I saw them within a week of each other. That said, Dredd and Looper are worth a view through Netflix or Amazon or wherever.
Dredd flew completely under my radar until a friend recommended we see a matinee showing. I was pleasantly surprised. I never saw Stallone’s 1995 Judge Dredd, but one glimpse of obviously-comic-relief Rob Schneider and a 5.2 on IMDB (whose ratings seem to skew high) makes me feel good about skipping it. Dredd takes a completely different tack as the most unapologetically, graphically violent movie I have seen in years. With a few exceptions—the panhandler’s demise, some of the slow-mo action sequences—the violence doesn’t seem gratuitous. Gory as hell, yes, but the brutality fits well within the world imagined by director Pete Travis. (I haven’t read the comic either, so I’m forming my opinion solely from the movie.)
Though not exactly a character-driven movie, the casting is good: Carl Urban is appropriately stoic, gruff, and frowny as Dredd. He convincingly portrays a man who, begrudgingly at times, maintains integrity and follows principle in a society devoid of them, even if it makes his job immeasurably harder. Dredd’s trainee is 99% sure a perp in their custody is guilty of crimes immediately punishable by death, but he refuses to execute because of the lack of absolute certainty. The trainee Anderson, played by Olivia Thirlby, does fine as the new recruit who has mind-reading capabilities because of mutations and stuff. This maguffin is a little irksome but for the most part forgivable because, well, because…because I didn’t have any expectations for the movie to begin with and Olivia Thirlby is way hot. There, I said it. I’ve liked actresses and movies for far less. Lena Headey as head-villain Ma-Ma, though, really steals the show. How she attains her position, treats the people in her employ, dispatches her competition, all are pretty unexpected. A name like Ma-Ma might lead you to believe that she governs her territory firmly but benevolently, but you would be wrong. One genuinely disturbing scene involving several mini-guns and the destruction of an entire quadrant of living space shows just how little she cares about anything but maintaining control over her domain.
In a different vein, ever thought about what you would say to yourself if you could go back in time? Looper shows you, if you were a mob hitman who lives in the run-down near-future US. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfect as a young Bruce Willis, even adopting some of his trademark smirks and eye-scrunching. The make-up team added facial prosthetics to make sure JGL looks the part, so much so that my wife actually said at the end, “I thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt was supposed to be in this.” This is a rare movie in which you see the character arc played out by a young man, in this case a contract killer plagued by guilt and doubt about certain (but not most) killings and the direction of his life, against his future self, who has supposedly become a changed man but is completely convinced that killing innocent(?) people in the past will secure a safe future for him and his wife. This isn’t metaphoric: they talk about this directly to each other.
Some plot holes and other weirdness detracted from my overall enjoyment. While he’s obviously good at killing people in the present, Bruce Willis comes back from the future as a completely unstoppable killing machine. There was no indication that was ever bad-ass enough to pull off a Terminator-like destruction of a fully manned mob boss’s lair. Also, the Back to the Future-esque time travel mechanics don’t make a ton of sense either. The biggest disappointment for me, though, was the introduction of telekinesis. The most important parts of the movie revolve around it, and it felt completely unnecessary. The mystery of the Rainmaker and his rise to power, which was the reason Willis’s character was so bent on getting back to the past, could have been explained so easily without throwing crazy mental powers into the mix. This felt like lazy writing, a cop-out. Give some of my creative friends 72 hours, beer and pizza, and they could have concocted something far more believable and reality-based than telekinesis. (Yes, I understand that I’m talking about believability in a movie that relies on time travel.)
I realize that I felt cheated because I had high expectations for Looper. Overall, it’s still a way-fun movie with just enough well-conceived, high-concept twists to keep sci-fi fans engaged. Dredd should also satisfy the lower- and higher-brow viewer, exploring some interesting themes a little more deeply than you might expect and with about as much fake blood as you would expect. Make an afternoon of these two.