The future of America is bleak: irradiated wastelands force people to live in overcrowded, enclosed cities; unemployment is extremely high, and many turn to crime, feeding on those who are weaker.  Gangs run the streets and the mega-buildings that litter the cities.  The only ones who defend the innocent and uphold the law are the Judges: police officers who are a combination of judge, jury, and executioner.

Karl Urban plays Judge Dredd, a fearless, veteran law enforcement officer who is saddled with a rookie Judge (played by Olivia Thirlby) who happens to be a powerful, mutant psychic.  Together, they enter a high-rise building with 200 levels to investigate 3 gang related murders.  Urban and Thirlby arrest a gang member who they suspect is the killer; but Lena Headey (who plays the leader of the Ma-Ma gang that rules the entire building) puts the building on lockdown to prevent the Judges from taking their prisoner for questioning.  With their wireless communications blocked out, the Judges are on their own as hundreds of gang-bangers hunt them down.

“Dredd” is as serious and brutal as a heart attack.  I can almost feel the grime of the city crawling on my skin as I watched this fast-paced, well written and well-directed movie.  Within 5 minutes of watching “Dredd,” I was hooked; and it took me on an almost non-stop, violent and bloody ride.  Although Urban is the star, Thirlby steals the show; and that’s mostly because the story deals with her character more deeply than it does with the Dredd character.   We see her as an outcast at first, unsure of herself; but she quickly gets her bearings and proves herself more than a match for those who seek to kill her and her partner.

One of my memorable moments from “Dredd” is the scene when Thirlby, unarmed, charges two gangsters who have their backs turned to her.  The speed and viciousness of her attack against the two gangsters was a bit shocking because I didn’t expect it from a petite, pretty, short, and young rookie.  The shot where Thirlby shoots one of the gang members in the face with a fully automatic sub-machine gun deserves several rewinds.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Dredd” is the scene when Headey has her goons set up three, very large mini-guns (I know, it’s like saying jumbo shrimp) and fire it in the general direction of where they think Urban and Thirlby are.   The guns fire non-stop for about a minute, shooting thousands of large caliber bullets that destroy anything and everyone it hits.  Lifeless, civilian bodies drop as there is nothing in their apartments to stop the bullets.  It’s one of those moments when you simply and quietly say, “holy s@#t” when the carnage is over.

As raw as “Dredd” is, there is also hope and beauty in this movie.  The hope is embodied in Thirlby, who came from the slums and is now on her way to become one of the best Judges ever…if she survives.  The beauty comes from the slow motion shots which are works of art.  I watched the DVD version of this movie, and I’m sure the Blu-ray, 3D version would really make the slow motion parts of “Dredd” stand out even more.

Whatever format you watch “Dredd” in, if you’re an action-movie fan, you need to invest some of your precious time into watching this very good movie.