A film review by Craig J. Koban May 20, 2019

DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE jjj

2019, R, 159 mins.

 

Mel Gibson as Brett Ridgeman  /  Vince Vaughn as Anthony Lurasetti  /  Don Johnson as Lt. Calvert  /  Jennifer Carpenter as Kelly Summer  /  Michael Jai White as Biscuit  /  Tory Kittles as Henry Johns  /  Laurie Holden as Melanie Ridgeman  /  Udo Kier as Friedrich

Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler

 

 

 

The thought of seeing yet another crooked cops thriller really has very little appeal to me these days, seeing as my time to screen movies is precious, not to mention that the genre itself has been literally done to death over the years.  

But writer/director S. Craig Zahler's DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE has somewhat renewed my faith in these types of films, mostly because it favors slow burn intrigue and character dynamics versus action, which gives it strong psychological underpinnings.  It also features a triumphant tandem of Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn (giving incredibly and refreshingly retrained performances), gorgeous cinematography, and a strong evocation of atmosphere and tone.  But DRAGGED AGAINST CONCRETE also emerges as a conundrum for the critic in me, seeing as its 160 minute running (wow!) is ridiculously and frustratingly self indulgent.   

It's clear that Zhaler's has bitten off way more than he can chew here; he simply has no idea when to put his editorial hat on and say "stop."  Yet, if one is willing to turn a blind eye to its endurance testing runtime then I think it'll be hard to discredit the supreme and confident craft that went into Zahler's third feature film.  This is a messy and undisciplined, but endlessly compelling piece of hard boiled pulp fiction about two down on their luck men of the law that decide to embark on a series of bad choices in order to eek themselves out of the one per center poverty line.  This type of storytelling is as old as the genre itself, but Zahler finds innovation in the small, yet enthralling details of these flawed men's lives and how they eventually become their own worst enemies.  DRAGGED AGAINST CONCRETE is also a rare cop/crime thriller that doesn't go out of its way to make us like these characters, or root them on to final victory.  These cops are sleazy, nearly beyond redemption and engage in  reprehensible behavior that many will find off-putting.  This is a nasty movie about nasty people, but it never makes apologies for what it is, which gives it a strange level of provocative guts as a result. 

 

 

And speaking of guts and provocative, how about the casting of Mel Gibson - no stranger in real life to run ins with the law over racist behavior - playing a toxically bigoted and deeply cynical cop (it almost seems too perfect and spot on in retrospective, but you have to give props for Zahler's nerve in approaching Gibson with this material, and the actor's willingness to take it on).  Gibson plays Brett Ridgeman, a grizzled cop that has never attained high rank due to a history of racist and abusive actions within the department, leaving him feeling pretty broken down as he approaches a ripe old 60.  His partner is Anthony Lurasetti (Vaughn), who's arguably no more ethically sound at his job.  The pair get into serious trouble early in the film when they seriously rough up a Latino drug dealer and engage in even more questionable interrogation techniques of his girlfriend while trying to arrest them both.  DRAGGED AGAINST CONCRETE makes a claim very early on that these cops are dirty and do a lot of wrong on the beat. 

This latest arrest attempt gets them into serious hot water with their boss (played wonderfully in an all too short cameo by Don Johnson), who is forced to suspend them both without pay to avoid a media circus, even though he shares much of their casual on-the-job racist views.  This reprimand hits both men hard, especially Ridgeman, whose wife (Laurie Holden) is crippled and unable to work.  Lurasetti is also seriously bummed out by the suspension, seeing as he was about to propose to his girlfriend.  Both men have mutually grown tired of upholding the law and the low financial dividends it pays, which leads to them both using their criminal connections to plot a massive score on some well hidden and crooked loot.  Concurrent to their story is that of ex-con Henry Jones (Tony Kittles), who just got out of prison to discover his mother has become a prostitute junkie to make ends meet.  He decides to hop back into crime and - wouldn't ya know it? - gets involved with some very dangerous thugs to pull off the same score that those desperate cops are after. 

DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE slowly establishes all of these characters and motivations, and early on I appreciated its leisurely pace with the material.  Zahler also takes time in showing the mind numbing monotony of these cops trying to plan their heist, which involves a lot of stakeout work, sitting in parked cars for hours on end, and trying not to do anything that will annoy and/or anger the other in the process.  There's ample colorful and economical banter between Gibson and Vaughn during these quieter moments of the film, which involves deadpan quips and snarky insults.  They have a sort of beleaguered married odd couple vibe throughout the film, and Gibson and Vaughn are sensationally at making us believe that these men have been together a long time, have been through hell and back, and now are at their occupational wits' end.  Vaughn - known for his rapid fire motormouthed antics in past roles - seems more intriguingly low key here, whereas Gibson (who very famously played a damaged goods cop in the LETHAL WEAPON films) gives a terrifically gnarly performance as this world weary, but deeply flawed soul that believes that the world dealt him a raw hand over and over again.  Gibson's internalized rage and intensity here gives way to an old and exhausted man that feels more authentic then most of the madmen his played before. 

Zahler also makes a visually dynamic film through and through, and you can tell that he and cinematographer Benji Bakshi spent an awfully lot of time framing and choreographing many of this film's more macabre and picturesque moments (as far as recent crime noirs go, this once looks as superb as any I've seen).  DRAGGED AGAINST CONCRETE is also shockingly violent at times and features multiple set pieces that will either induce one's gag reflex or make others with weak stomachs flee for the cinema exists.  Yet, like a Tarantino before him, Zahler crafts instances of unflinching, yet impressively stylized bloodshed that's easy to admire on a level of sheer audacity and showmanship.  The film builds to an incredibly prolonged, yet stupendously orchestrated climax involving all of the parties on both sides of the law and Zahler shows great mischievous and sadistic glee in showcasing the final act's showdown. 

Three things, unfortunately, bothered me in a big, big way about DRAGGED AGAINST CONCRETE.  The large elephant in the room is this film's extremely bloated running time, and even though I admired Zahler's narrative moderation early on, it becomes abundantly clear as the film progresses that its deliberate pacing is sort of a double edged sword.  Some scenes are masterpieces of character observation, whereas many others feel like they're never going to end and segue to the next more important sequence.  More often than not, DRAGGED AGAINST CONCRETE feels like a rough first edit that Zahler couldn't bring himself to trim down.  Then there's the sickening racism of many of the characters here, with some of their blunt and brutally honest exchanges about the nature of the PC police and how that's hurting their livelihoods and society as a whole will obviously incite a polarizing response from viewers.  I don't think Zahler and his film is trying to propagate racist views, but rather is trying to gives us an uneasy glimpse into the lives of some morally revolting and shameful people.  DRAGGED AGAINST CONCRETE acknowledges evil forces in the world with an in-your-face candidness, but I don't think Zahler endorses his character's loathsome beliefs and behavior at all. 

Oh, and as for the third thing, the women introduced in this film are mostly portrayed as mentally unstable victims, some of which are quickly introduced as would-be major players, only then to be horrifically dealt with in truly sickening ways (take Jennifer Carpenter's character as a traumatized bank employee and mother with severe separation anxiety that Zahler deals with so cruelly that it defies description).  That turned me off, but maybe it's part of Zahler's questionable approach to dealing with his themes about people in the fringe areas of society that sell out their souls to get what they want via any highly barbaric means necessary.  DRAGGED AGAINST CONCRETE is a hard film to sit through at times (mostly because of its punishing and watch checking runtime, but also because its pushes many buttons in viewers that they don't like acknowledging).   This isn't a repellent film, but rather a film about repellent people, and Zahler's is too fine of a cinematic craftsman to be easily dismissed as a shamelessly one note provocateur here.  If anything, DRAGGED AGAINST CONCRETE displays him as an accomplished director with tremendous promise to look out for. 

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