Movie Review : Dragged Across Concrete (2018)
* this review contains mild spoilers *
When S. Craig Zahler’s first movie Bone Tomahawk (a hyperviolent Western featuring cannibals) came out, he instantly became the talk of the town. It was fierce, squishy, original and everything. Well, I didn’t see it because Westerns aren’t my thing, but I’m obscenely well-informed about it. That’s what I get for living my life on the internet. What I did see what Zahler’s sophomore effort Brawl in Cell Block 99… which, I felt was gimmicky and not that well-written? But I liked it enough to give his new movie Dragged Across Concrete, though. I mean, how can you go wrong with violent, unruly cops?
Turns out that it can go a little wrong after all.
Dragged Across Concrete tells the story of Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lusaretti (Vince Vaughn), violent, overzealous cops that get suspended for roughhousing a minority on video during an arrest. Angry and humiliated, Ridgeman asks a contact for a piece of some action while he’s off-duty and stumbles upon a mysterious operation on the outskirts of town. He invites Lusaretti on this potential score and they have to decide together whether or not they’re ready to unlawfully seek proper compensation for their lives of thankless public service.
I’m of two minds when it comes to this movie. It’s an almost three hours affairs that enjoys meandering in needless editorial comments. See, Vulture called it a boneheaded, right-wing fantasy and I came in ready to work with it because many movies I enjoy (Dirty Harry, Cobra, etc.), are exactly that. But the problem with Dragged Across Concrete is that it can’t shut up about it. At least for the first half. Whether it’s the police chief (Don Johnson) comparing racism accusations to mid-century communist witch hunt, black kids bullying Ridgeman’s daughter for nebulous reasons or his wife claiming her neighborhood made her racist, it childishly dangles one inflammatory statement after the other.
I get that it’s supposed to be provocation. But provocation usually entails a certain reframing of “common knowledge” in a way people are not ready to accept. S. Craig Zahler’s mullings about racism are just carelessly thrown out there and never dealt with. And no, making a character die is not a way to deal with it. Not in a movie where 99% of the characters die a horrible death.
But if you’re patient and open-minded like me (see what I did here?), you’ll eventually make it to the second half of Dragged Across Concrete and there’s a lot to like about it. It kicks off with a Jennifer Carpenter cameo of a bank employee not wanting to come back from maternity leave and ends up with a pile of bodies at the end of the same day. Sure, it turns out to be another bank heist movie, which is the least original trope there is. But it’s filmed in such an original and uncompromising way that it’s difficult to think of it as a heist movie:
- First, it’s never explicitly shown that it’s a heist movie until the halfway point. Ridgeman and Lusaretti are just tailing mysterious interlopers, trying to understand what they’re up to.
- There is no standoff with law enforcement whatsoever. Our suspended nitwits ARE the only law enforcement there is in the vicinity. It wouldn’t make sense in any other movie, but it somehow works here.
- One of the token bad guys constantly wears a balaclava and welding goggles throughout the entire movie, which make him both terrifying and perhaps the most honest depiction of a token bad guy I’ve ever seen.
- The scenes are excruciatingly long, exacerbating tension between characters. and somehow makes the bad guys even more terrifying. It’s like you’re stuck with them also.
- It winds up into one of the most brutal shootout scenes I’ve ever seen. The cold, senseless portrayal of death is perhaps the most interesting idea S. Craig Zahler brings forward in Dragged Across Concrete. The de-romanticizing of death. It is neither cool to kill or to die in this movie.
So yeah, I begrudgingly enjoyed Dragged Across Concrete. I don’t believe S. Craig Zahler is a racist despite the Facebook comment feel of the first half. Tory Kittles’ character is as close as it gets to a protagonist here, even if he feels a little “token bank heist movie protagonist-ish”. He’s not put in there as a “see, I’m not racist” counterargument. He’s part of the story even if Dragged Across Concrete shifts the focus on him late. But I’d like to see what S. Craig Zahler could do filiming a screenplay he didn’t write. Something written by Taylor Sheridan, for example. Zahler’s a terrific director, but let’s collectively agree that he’s not that good at writing?