DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE
R, 159 mins.
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.
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
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.
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.
CONCRETE slowly establishes all of these characters and
motivations, and early on I appreciated its leisurely pace with the
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
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.
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.
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
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.