Dragged Across Concrete | S. Craig Zahler | March 22, 2019
S. Craig Zahler has made a name and reputation for himself based on the bone-crunching violence and lengthy runtimes of his first two films Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. Zahler shows he has something on his mind and doesn’t shy away from making that point as hard as the violence erupts between the films’ characters. Zahler’s latest, Dragged Across Concrete, is likely to be the most divisive effort from the director yet.
While cops Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) are arresting a drug dealer, they use excessive force and showcase troublesome racist tendencies that don’t look good. A neighbor records the whole thing, showcasing Ridgeman’s excessive violence and Lurasetti’s smiling and non-intervention. Concrete doesn’t hide the fact these characters lean hard to the right politically, as does Zahler’s script. These feelings are echoed by Lt. Calvert (Don Johnson) who realizes that the times are changing and not in the right direction. But being Ridgeman’s former partner, even he recognizes that the force used was undeniably excessive and wonders what happened to Ridgeman to leave him still policing on the street, while Calvert sits in a cozy office space.
They’re promptly suspended without pay – a problem, considering Ridgeman needs to care for his wife Melanie (Laurie Holden) who is suffering from multiple sclerosis and daughter Sara (Jordyn Ashley Olson), and Lurasetti plans to propose to his girlfriend Denise (Tattiawna Jones). They are fed up with the way the system has treated them throughout the years, with poor pay for the dangerous work that they encounter putting away bad guys. So considering their suspension has left them as technical civilians, they find a way to fairly compensate themselves by setting up a plan to rob a criminal named Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann).
Their storyline intersects with another one involving Henry Johns (Tory Kittles), recently released from prison, who finds his mother resorting to prostitution to pay for her drug addict, all while his handicapped little brother is home. He reunites with childhood friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White) to partake in one last criminal job which should help him pay to put his family in a better situation. The only issue is that this job is for Vogelmann and his crazy deranged henchmen Grey Gloves (Matthew MacCaull) and Black Gloves (Primo Allon). Soon enough, their story intersects with Ridgeman and Lurasetti, and the line of morality is long forgotten.
At a hefty runtime of 159 minutes, Zahler takes plenty of time to introduce these characters and allow these story beats to form as if you’re witnessing them in real time. While staking out Vogelmann’s place, we spend time with Ridgeman and Lurasetti inside their car and listen to them debate if they should go through with the mission. While some may consider these moments unnecessarily stalling, it adds depth and dimension to the characters that provide some of the most memorable bits of the film – such as Vaughn’s Lurasetti chomping away at an egg salad sandwich to the great displeasure of Gibson’s Ridgeman.
Dragged Across Concrete will not be for everyone, that’s for sure. If it’s not the slow burn approach, the violence, or the dark atmosphere and grey colors captured by cinematographer Benji Bakshi, then it may be the casting of Mel Gibson. Gibson, who has understandably become a troubling figure in the industry, is given a role that hits a bit too close to home to his present-day persona. Zahler’s screenplay has a lot on its mind about present-day political correctness, racism, and plenty more. At points, it feels like Zahler is offering up his personal views; other times, it’s like he’s trolling us. It’s certainly provocative and – when combined with the violence that follows during the film’s rather gripping final 30 minutes – exploitative in ways that won’t sit right for everyone, especially a new character introduced about halfway through played by Dexter‘s Jennifer Carpenter who provides the most disturbing and shocking violent outburst of all.
But you don’t necessarily have to connect with a film’s ideas or politics to find it still effective as a crime thriller echoing many shades of Tarantino. Personal thoughts aside, Gibson offers an effective performance alongside Vaughn, which is easily his best work in years. Vaughn has his moments as well, and the pair are an effective duo whose chemistry seems to grow throughout the film’s crazy antics. The same can be said about the performance of Tory Kittles, who seems to really have a strong handle on Zahler’s rhythmic dialogue.
The film will ask a lot of viewers, but I found that it was an effective thriller that knew how to stretch out tension effectively, even if it does have some troubling elements and is about as predictable as you expect from a crime thriller of this sort. But there’s no doubt about the craftsmanship and talent that Zahler has behind the lens and the unquestionable ability he has to make a film that leaves an impression, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum.