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.
Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler makes his third feature here with all the idiosyncrasies we’ve come to expect; the rich dialogue, opting for slow-burning pacing rather than cheap thrills, and his ability to balance exploitation with gritty realism. Bone Tomahawk, the subversive western with a twist ending that no-one saw coming, and Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a macabre prison thriller. In his third outing with Dragged Across Concrete, we have that same balancing act of exaggerated characters set in a fictional town, and dripping with dialogue that borders on poetry.
The synopsis of Dragged Across Concrete is only one of the plot threads. The film instead starts with the release of ex-convict Henry (Tory Kittles), who returns home hoping to make a better life for his drug-addicted mother and his bright wheelchair-bound brother.
To do this Henry receives a “job” from his childhood friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White). The film then flips between these two characters and the two cops Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Lurasetti (Vince Vaughan). Each of these cops come loaded with their own personal problems. Ridgeman’s daughter is being bullied by some local kids, and his wife’s chronic disability prevents her from returning to work. Their job, assigned by their criminal connection Friedrich (Udo Kier), is to follow a lead on a potential score – the amount of wealth they could receive is nondisclosed.
For the rest of the movie, it flips between these two plotlines with the third throughline of a masked, well-kitted sociopath killing people at will to gain whatever it is that he needs. All three do come to a head, but it’s this unknowing that will keep audiences engaged. Zahler isn’t known for his expository dialogue so when a character is introduced, and the minutia of their lifestyles is brought forth you never know how important this character is. Notably, at the 1-hour mark, a wealthy bank teller is to return to work after her maternity leave (Jennifer Carpenter) only she suffers from anxiety and wishes to stay at home to look after her baby. It’s a 20-minute introduction that only serves to showcase the richness of Zahler’s world.
Ridgeman and Lurasetti are horrible characters – this cannot be emphasised enough. They condone police brutality if it means capturing the bad guys and Ridgeman is quietly racist. Nonetheless, it’s the violent, bleak, and grim world they live in that they would become hardened, ugly characters. Zahler lifts this by infusing much black humour, notably when the two interrogate a naked, partially deaf Mexican woman. The same goes for the aforementioned sociopath shooting aimlessly in the gas station long after completing the robbery and killing all witnesses. The world is filled with ugly, deplorable characters, bar Henry’s brother, but Zahler knows the audience is going to be with these characters for 2 and a half hours, so best make the dialogue rich, engaging, and void of cliches.
The grey colour palette and muted colours foreground the bleakness of their world. Zahler’s style of long takes with few cuts allows the emptiness of their lives to come forward. It’s a visual style that rewards astute observers.
It’s unafraid to show the mindless violence in this world with a visual style that leans heavily on the exploitation genre. Exploding heads, abrupt gunfire, and brutal attacks that is drenched in nihilism. All of the characters that live in the fictitious town of Bulwark have something to live for, but external circumstances prevent it. Even in the film’s climax, this mindless, unwarranted bleakness never lets up.
Dragged Across Concrete is a slow-burning thriller that warrants your attention. It’s a gory, violent, bleak, grim, gritty tale aided by Zahler’s rich dialogue, engaging characters, and a cold visual style that makes this a rewarding film watching experience.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★