Director S. Craig Zahler is a provocateur who loves both ‘70s genre conventions and pissing off at least half his intended audience. In interview after interview, he’ll tell you that isn’t true, that he just writes interesting characters and lets them say and do what they will, but with three films under his belt (Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99, and this one) and everyone one of them courting controversies, it is hard to take him at his word. With Dragged Across Concrete, he’s mixing racism and misogyny with his usual brand of extreme violence. Add to that mix a starring role for Mel Gibson, who has been a person non gratis in Hollywood for some time due to a drunken racist diatribe caught on tape, and it's like Zahler is just asking for controversy.
But the thing is his films, much like Zahler himself, tend to stay neutral about all the horror being depicted. The camera is just an observer and the film takes so many of the characters' points of view it never makes a judgment on what’s happening. It leaves it to the viewer. Which when a character is spouting hate or committing one violent murder after another, it can be difficult to swallow. Here’s the other thing: if Zahler was a hack, if he was a bad filmmaker, it would be easy to write him and his films off. But he’s not. He’s loaded with talent. He is a true filmmaker, which means his movies, no matter how nasty the content, deserve to be viewed and interrogated.
Gibson plays Detective Brett Ridgeman, who is caught on tape busting a Latino drug dealer by smashing his boot into the man’s throat while his partner Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) looks on. During that same scene, we watch the two accost a nearly naked woman by putting her in a cold shower and pretending they can’t understand her accent when she doesn’t give them the answers they want.
They both get six-weeks suspension for it, though when their Chief (Don Johnson) breaks this news. he seems to agree that what they did wasn’t so bad, especially considering how they got a scumbag drug dealer who sells to kids off the street. That political correctness run amok makes police the bad guys and actual evil men into victims. But then when the Chief is alone with Ridgeman they talk about how they used to be partners, and how that boot to the throat was too much and that maybe Ridgeman is letting the job burn him up with hate. See what I mean, about Zahler and his films? He pulls up next to the alt-right crowd then backs just far enough away to give you doubt about what’s going on in his head and his films.
Ridgeman and Lurasetti use the suspension to plot a crime themselves - stealing from an out-of-town criminal in the city for one big score. Ridgeman has a wife with MS and a daughter being harassed by some black kids on her way back from school. The wife (Laurie Holden) says she was a non-racist liberal before moving into this neighborhood but now she’s all aboard the hate train. Anyways, they want out of that neighborhood and need the money. Lurasetti is about to propose to his girlfriend and realizes his pay check can’t give her the life she deserves.
The other lead is Henry Johns (Tory Kittles), a black man just out of the joint who comes home to find his mom addicted to heroin again and tricking to keep herself high. A wheelchair-bound brother adds to his back story. He agrees to be the driver for a bank robbery but he quickly winds up in over his head. The leaders of the criminal outfit are cold-blooded killers unafraid to shoot anyone who gets in their way or even when the mood strikes them.
Zahler seems to be juxtapositioning Johns with Ridgeman showing how both have difficult back stories providing reasons for them to come to crime. The two wind up together towards the end in a long, extended shoot-out that is laden with extreme violence, interesting banter, and an added layer of cruelty. But what exactly the film is saying about these two is difficult to say.
At 2 hours and 39 minutes, it is a long film, especially considering the relatively short amount of time this type of genre film usually lasts. Zahler likes to take his time. He adds in long scenes that a typical film of this sort would cut. Crime films typically want to get to the action as quick as possible, but Dragged Across Concrete takes its time. It gives us character details and odd little tidbits. Rather than make the film drag, these moments wound up being some of my favorite scenes. But when he does bring on the action he brings it and then some.
The performances are all good. Gibson shows you how he was once a great movie star. It almost makes me want to see him in more movies. Then I remember all the terrible stuff and I want him to go away forever. Which is maybe a good metaphor for the film. It awes you with its brilliance while at the same time leaving you a little queasy.
Lionsgate presents Dragged Across Concrete with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio and a 1080p transfer. It has a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound. Extras include “Elements of a Crime,” a three-part documentary on the making of the film and "Moral Conflict: Creating a Cinema that Challenges" which spends a lot of time telling the audience how it's ok to make a movie featuring pretty despicable characters.
It is a film featuring pretty awful people which stars at least one disgraced actor, not to mentiom a lot of graphic violence. It is definitely not a film for everyone. But for genre fans, especially those who also enjoy quality filmmaking, it is well worth checking out.