Once two overzealous cops get suspended from the force, they must delve into the criminal underworld to get their proper compensation.
Ten years ago, if a film about two cops forced to make a living working in the criminal underworld starring Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson had been released, it’s easy to picture that it would have most likely involved a couple of high speed car chases, unrealistic shootouts and plenty laughs provided by Vaughn’s fast talking, slightly inept yet well intentioned rookie and Gibson’s seasoned, tough no-nonsense veteran, ending with them getting out of this delicate situation looking like heroes and the bad guys in cuffs.
This is not that movie.
Here, good and bad people are equally dealt a cruel hand. A relentless exploration of racism, corruption, morality (or lack thereof), economy and hopelessness.
The third feature from S. Craig Zahler – whose Brawl In Cell Block 99 was also reviewed here and which you should definitely check out… as long as you have a strong stomach – Dragged Across Concrete is easily the director’s most politically charged work, having a lot on its mind to say but isn’t always so successful in transcribing what exactly that is to the audience.
At 159 minutes, the film is not for the impatient as it deliberately keeps an extremely slow pace from beginning to end, being much more of a 1970’s arthouse crime drama with sporadic moments of violence than the action packed blockbuster you might expect. This is best exemplified by a scene where we are treated to Vaughn’s character eating a breakfast burrito for a full uninterrupted minute.
Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn’s careers have gone down a much more interesting path in recent years – Forced into Gibson due to controversies yet intentional for Vaughn – which also leads to a much more interesting film than what we would have gotten in the past.
Both actors deliver gritty and raw performances, making fine use of Zahler’s theatrical dialogue and relishing playing these complex figures.
For Gibson’s Brett Ridgeman, the director utilises the actors troubled past, deeply wrinkled face and angry eyes to portray a veteran police officer who has not accustomed himself to modern political correctness, being somewhat of a violent and intolerant bigot. Yet despite his unpleasantness he is only trying to provide the best life for his family.
Vaughn’s Anthony Lurasetti has many of the same human flaws to a much lesser degree, having some semblance of a moral compass, mostly trying to do whats right but hindered by his selfish need to find the money in order to propose to his girlfriend no matter the cost. The usually comedic actor is much more subdued here than in Brawl In Cell Block 99 but still delivers a solid performance alongside Gibson.
Much less advertised but equally important to the story is Tory Kittles as ex-convict Henry Johns, who is just looking to take care of his drug addicted, prostitute mother and wheelchair bound younger brother. Kittles is the heart and soul of the movie, his story slowly converging with the detectives path as we move along.
Dragged Across Concrete is a difficult film to watch or enjoy in the regular sense of the word. Although not as gory as Zahler’s previous efforts it is more cruel, as it lacks that pulpy substance and heightened sense to the story, choosing a more realistic and straightforward approach.
Unfortunately one can’t help but feel that the filmmaker is too enamored by his own storytelling, which leads to it’s overlong duration. Jennifer Carpenter’s character is an example of this as her small subplot packs a thematic punch but is largely irrelevant to moving the plot forward.
This section would work fantastic in a novel, yet in a movie it makes you anxious as you wish to get back to the main story. I can respect his unwillingness to compromise and cut the film (as the producers had wished he had done), but it could have benefited from some nips and cuts here and there.
At least it’s made easier to go through with some beautiful cinematography courtesy of frequent collaborator DP Benji Bakshi and its commitment to bring this 1970’s aesthetic to life is an enjoyably soulful soundtrack provided by the director himself along with composer Jeff Herriot
Honoring its name, Dragged Across Concrete leaves you with the feeling that you’ve just been pulled through an excruciatingly slow, brutal, painful, tense and traumatizing ordeal. In a good way. If you can make through some unnecessarily long and cruel detours, you’ll be rewarded with a dark morality tale full of some rich and complex characters along with impeccable filmmaking.