Dragged Across Concrete, 2019.
Written and Directed by S. Craig Zahler.
Starring Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Don Johnson, Jennifer Carpenter, Michael Jai White, Tory Kittles, Laurie Holden, Udo Kier, Liannet Borrego, Trezzo Mahoro, Fred Melamed, Andrew Dunbar, Giacomo Baessato, Primo Allon, Jenn Griffin, Myles Truitt, Justine Warrington, Brett Alexander Davidson, Cardi Wong, Vivian Ng, Alexander Soto, and Thomas Kretschmann.
Once two overzealous cops get suspended from the force, they must delve into the criminal underworld to get their proper compensation.
Look, I’m not going to chastise anyone that is uncomfortable still supporting Mel Gibson, but those that do give Dragged Across Concrete a shot almost certainly won’t regret the decision.
Writer/director S. Craig Zahler (the rising genre filmmaker that blends pulp with character drama, who is already 2/2 with Bone Tomahawk and his first Vince Vaughn collaboration, Brawl in Cell Block 99) is completely aware of what he’s doing by casting Mel Gibson as Brett Ridgeman, a reliable but hotheaded detective that is becoming overly aggressive and prejudiced due to negative experiences living in the impoverished neighborhood that he must provide for his family in, all as a result of no promotions and consistently being compensated low across his 20+ years on the job. And it’s not long before, in typical Zahler grimness, Brett and his partner Tony (Vince Vaughn, the younger and slightly more calmly collected of the pair) end up suspended for police brutality.
To them, real manliness is long gone; they are unable to change with the times, especially with Brett’s evolving racism (even his wife who describes herself as liberal as they come, played by Laurie Holden in a woefully underwritten role for a character given distinct traits like scoliosis, is beginning to have not so flattering thoughts about black people, especially after their daughter is bullied again). The movie itself admittedly sounds racist as I flesh out my thoughts, but Dragged Across Concrete presents to us a challenging and realistic scenario that controversially demands viewers to look at things from a bleak perspective, but a perspective worth attempting to comprehend nonetheless; these detectives are outstanding at their jobs, and unnecessary force or not, just prevented a ton of drugs from reaching the school district. The thanks they get is a suspension and further financial stress.
Without going too much into plot specifics (the film clocks in at a beefy 160 minutes while never tipping the audience off as to where the narrative will go next), the detectives decide to take matters into their own hands and intercept a bunch of gold during a transaction between criminals. Dragged Across Concrete takes another page from the Zahler playbook though; it gives nearly every character in the movie motivations and some kind of backstory, definitely offsetting whatever suspicions of the film being racist are still floating around.
Tory Kittles plays Henry, a black man recently released from prison who is willing to take on dangerous work to better provide for his now prostitute mother and disabled younger brother (for whatever reason, Zahler seems to enjoy using disabilities as an emotionally manipulative crutch, but the truly frustrating part is that the quality of his work is so strong that such superfluous characteristics are unnecessary). Naturally, he and his best friend (Michael Jai White) get entangled into the previously mentioned criminal transaction, doing dirty work for German criminals alongside a stylish assassin. There is also a centerpiece action sequence that starts out by following a newly introduced character, a mother returning to work after maternity leave. It’s certainly clunkily written and shows that Zahler still has more to learn when it comes to female characters, but the concept itself is bold and makes for one hell of a payoff that adds to the waning moral compass of our antiheroes.
Of course, given the running time, one can’t help but feel there might be a little too much here (Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn have tremendous chemistry, the kind that harkens back to the days of Lethal Weapon albeit much more grounded and serious here, but it’s probably not a good idea to have one character criticizing how slow another one eats during a nearly three-hour movie where I have to spend two minutes watching that character scarf down said breakfast), but what makes Zahler so unique and must-see as a filmmaker is that he’s not afraid to take B stories and imbue them with real characters and humanity. No matter how inconsequential a character is to the narrative, they all have at least one or two emotional moments or dialogue exchanges that make us care. Even cliché aspects such as Tony debating whether or not to propose to his girlfriend play out with genuine drama rather than something out a cheesy action movie of the 90s that is clearly some of the inspiration.
It also means that once the heist is in motion, we are genuinely concerned about the safety for both sides of wronged individuals looking to improve their financial stability. If Dragged Across Concrete shows how little rewarded so many important jobs in the country are (yes, the detectives have a knack for being overly aggressive but they’re also not out here terrorizing innocent people), it also shows how broken society is for unlucky African-Americans in pursuit of a better life, immediately turning to a high-risk high reward criminal endeavor.
All of this is executed with maximum intensity, (roughly an hour of the movie is one continuous action sequence that bridges from scene to scene, often indulging in that genius grotesque body violence that Zahler made a name for himself with), reaching a conclusion with actual weight and thought behind the consequences of prejudiced behavior. The ending is going to stay with moviegoers for a long time, with people likely asking themselves if the same thing would have happened under altered circumstances, but to say more would be a massive spoiler. Dragged Across Concrete is a legitimate conversation starter on where prejudices come from and how racism festers up inside someone, although sadly not a conversation many people are willing to discuss maturely if the recent Liam Neeson controversy is an accurate indication.
Even if you’re not concerned with any of that and just want to watch a slick and violent heist thriller, Dragged Across Concrete boasts sharp direction capturing the carnage from calculated angles, badass helmets and voice modifiers, and some gnarly shock value. S. Craig Zahler hones his craft and improves with every feature, but this is his first outstanding film, cementing him as one of the most distinct and captivating filmmakers working today. I’m going to take a wild guess and assume that the title refers to the fact that watching these complex but likable individuals of varying degrees dramatically better their lives is akin to being dragged across concrete, but there is devilishly fun pleasure in their pain.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com