DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE
Dragged Across Concrete is the latest Crime/Drama from talented Writer/Director, S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99). It revolves around the long-time partnership of two tainted cops. Brett Ridgeman (played by Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), a man twenty years his junior, are suspended without pay after their overzealous treatment of a drug dealer during a bust. The men seek out what they feel they’re owed but do so through the means of an illegal exercise that sees them cross paths with an ex-con who’s attempting to provide for his family, and a dangerous criminal planning a job of his own. The film also stars Tory Kittles (TV’s True Detective), Laurie Holden (TV’s The Walking Dead), Thomas Kretschmann (Valkyrie), Michael Jai White (The Dark Knight), and Jennifer Carpenter (Brawl In Cell Block 99).
Zahler is one of those little known guys that’s flying under the radar right now, but for those of us who like our Tarantino inspired dialogue thick and heavy and our crime as gritty as it comes, we certainly noticed him when he crashed onto the scene back in 2015 with the brutal Western/Horror picture “Bone Tomahawk”. If word of mouth didn’t make it to you in the wake of that film, maybe you heard about “Brawl In Cell Block 99” – a white knuckle bare-bones crime film that saw Vaughn’s (who starred) lead character, Bradley Thomas applying his own special brand of disciplinary action to what can only be described as one powder keg after another. I thought both films were brilliant in their own right, and with them, S (for Steven) established a bona fide knack for complex and interesting characters who spend their respective arcs occupying the grey area of the moral compass. There’s this Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) Esq duality to Zahler’s anti-heroes, and make no mistake, that’s exactly what they’ve proven to be in each of his ventures – segueing me nicely into Dragged Across Concrete.
In addition to its already gritty content, Dragged Across Concrete sees Zahler take the same guerilla-style approach to the technical elements. Color grading is fittingly washed out, much in the same fashion as it was in the previous Brawl In Cell Block 99 and the returning Benji Bakshi employs a lot of similar shot types within the cinematography. Long takes are common, wide shots become the focal point of the scene, and everything feels personal. Some of the song choices were different and I was surprised to see them work because they had every right to have clashed with the intended tone. The film is slightly north of 150 minutes, Zahler’s longest yet, but it didn’t feel as drawn out as some would have you believe. I suppose in a roundabout way this is just a heist movie and not all that different from the likes of “Armored” or “Contraband”, but I’m still a bit bemused as to all the negativity surrounding the pacing and overall runtime. Perhaps it’s that the three acts aren’t as clearly defined as they could’ve been. In act one, we’re introduced to Henry Johns (Kittles), a young black man who’s just been released from prison and is now working a new angle with his friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White). Act two builds on the partnership of Ridgeman and Lurasetti as they monitor the movements of a mystery man operating out of an apartment building. The third act is where everything comes to a head and the fates of these men are ultimately decided.
Dragged Across Concrete marks a reunion of sorts for the much-maligned Gibson (arguably one of the most talented actors and filmmakers working today) and long-time comedic actor Vince Vaughn (who starred in Gibson’s masterful Hacksaw Ridge). This time they’re working together in a new capacity where each complements the other well. Ridgeman appears to get off on the good cop/bad cop shtick and there’s an underlining connotation of malcontent that manifests itself in the form of some blatantly obvious bigotry. As for Vince’s Lurasetti, he’s not opposed to crossing the line but it’s perhaps less about the shits and giggles for him and more about the potential gain. The two share that kind of shorthand that comes with a longtime partnership in a high-pressure job, weighing up situations with percentages of probability. The pair’s somewhat light-hearted banter certainly entertains throughout, even if some of it feels a touch morbid. The drama is there amidst the mystery of the job but it’s not as prevalent as I would’ve liked. The performances are good all around and it’s great to see Mel back in the driver’s seat. Dragged Across Concrete isn’t quite as violent as the title probably suggests, that said, it wouldn’t be a Zahler film without a handful of those swift and disturbing moments. One such moment comes about during an interaction in a bank. Zahler applies such a careful rhythm to the timing and delivery of his dialogue and action that even seemingly long-winded scenes never get boring.
Despite my strong engagement levels with the film, I do think it’s guilty of retaining a little too much padding for what is by and large just a heist film. That and some of the sequencing feels a bit scrambled in the same way it did in Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond The Pines” in terms of knowing when to introduce your drawcard – which in this case is Gibson and Vaughn, as well as how many of those moments in between point A and point B you choose to show. Vaughn’s motivations could’ve been fleshed out further and some of the early actions of secondary players like the men in black (for lack of a better term) don’t appear to have much context in the scheme of how they fit into the Vogelmann (Kretschmann) sub-plot. Jennifer Carpenter brings some heartfelt stuff to the table with her limited screen time, though Zahler’s boldness to set something up for her only to quash it, had me taken aback (not sure if that was in a good way or not). Continuity felt off in a few places as well, namely in revisiting Henry at the end of the first act. His brother was showing him video games, which was followed by an introduction to Ridgeman and Lurasetti supposedly three weeks later, only then to come back to the brothers sitting playing a video game all over again (and wearing the same clothes). I’m not sure if Anthony fully grasped the dangers of a fuel leak and gunfire, furthermore, there’s a pivotal plot device at the climax of the heist that completely lacked credibility and felt lazy. Said character has had previous experience with diffusing volatile situations and yet chooses to trust another without voicing logical concerns, and as luck would have it, the end result proves a fatal one.
Dragged Across Concrete is another pretty solid entry into the Crime genre. It feels like “Rampart” meets “Harsh Times” only straighter and better executed. The camera work is good, the music interesting, and the dialogue is more often than not inviting due to able performances. Zahler knows how to get the best out of his people, even if he does linger in restraint for too long sometimes. With some shortcomings regarding the fat of the piece, sub-plots that don’t always quantify, and a couple of crucial credibility issues, I can’t help but feel like Dragged Across Concrete is probably his weakest film. However, he still goes for broke and often makes daring and creative choices that I can usually get behind. I’m looking forward to seeing the new Western he has in the works, along with whatever else he does in the future. If you’re a fan of dueling story threads, questionable characters, and possess some patience, then I think you’ll get on board with Dragged Across Concrete. You can check out the official trailer below and the film is now available for streaming and purchasing online!
My rating for “Dragged Across Concrete” is 6/10