S. Craig Zahler (director)
2h 39mins (length)
19 April 2019 (released)
28 March 2019
Dragged Across Concrete was a grim and stark telling of the downfall of its many immoral characters, with an unflinching and confrontational approach to topics such as race, class and media. The approach of the story structure was like that of a pulp novel and the eventual crushing convergence of its various storylines was powerfully handled and somewhat justified the slower paced first half.
Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn play the films 'protagonists' Brett Ridgeman and Anthony Lurasetti respectively, two morally questionable police officers suspended for the aggressive arrest of a minority who decide to turn to crime. The chemistry they shared was the saving grace of the film, Anthony's reluctance to get involved, being younger and a little more rational as opposed to Brett's pure determination; this ultimately offered two perspectives on the situation. From the offset, in a meeting with their superior officer, they pass comments about the nature of reality and how the media vilifies anyone deemed offensive to them, clearly echoing various topics heavily debated today.
S. Craig Zahler has made clear that he wanted to make a film that was apolitical, wanting to focus on 'good people who are doing bad things and bad people trying to do okay things to better themselves' as an exploration of the themes and ideas he wants to convey in the film. At one point in the film, a character addresses the way the media will deem you a racist for things said in a private phone call (referencing Gibson's anti-Semitic comments) which, although Zahler denies ever being related, seems a little too accurate to be coincidental. A convergence of characters in a larger world is painted by Zahler with the unifying thread of desperation linking them undoubtedly together, despite their completely different class and ethnic backgrounds. With the lead characters being corrupt and racist cops could easily draw up some controversies, their inflammatory comments and actions definitely causing negative reactions with some audiences. The film, however never takes their sides, choosing instead to remain neutral on the topics discussed and perhaps rightfully so.
Gibson gives a strong performance, playing the same grizzled cop character he has become synonymous with over the years, though keeping it from ever getting stale are his interactions with his partner. Vaughn once again delivers a surprisingly nuanced performance that further cements proof of his dramatic range that audiences got a taste for in Zahler's previous film 'Brawl in Cell Block 99'. It's great to see him breaking away from his more type-cast and one-dimensional roles and establish himself as someone able to tackle nuanced and damaged characters. Tory Kittles gave a fantastic performance as Henry Johns, an African-American released from prison and in desperate need for money, fast getting in over his head and forming the backbone for the narrative to return to at key moments.
The bursts of violence littering the film were cold and unflinching, mostly painted in a brutally realistic way, bar one almost comically over the top moment which served to cynically beat down any of the more optimistic viewers. The cinematography of the film permeates phosphorescent yellows and dirty greens that matched the toxic world portrayed onscreen and drowned the characters in their converging fates. What few moments of more conventional cinematography did emerge were quickly suppressed by nightfall as the sickly hues reemerge.
Much of the film takes place in cars, passively living alongside the characters as they make decisions with unseen and often disastrous consequences. Scenes draw on much longer than you'd typically expect in a film like this, using the more menial aspects of things like stakeouts to flesh out the characters of Gibson and Vaughn thoroughly. These tender and human moments had me rooting for characters whose opinions I disagree with, although at times the comments being made definitely felt a little excessive. One such comment equated being labelled a racist today and a communist in the fifties which made me chuckle but I also had to question the reason behind its presence within the film.
A few continuity errors and inconsistencies definitely dragged me out of the story at times, be it things as small as lighting differences between shots or as drastic as pushing over an armoured van by ramming it with a medium sized car. Bad continuity littered the film which then clearly became an issue in the edit as the difference between shots were often considerable. These issues were never major enough to impede my enjoyment of the story however with the saving grace of the film being the enjoyable characters that we undertake the journey with. The weaving of their stories together, culminating in a lengthy and drawn-out climax, was worthwhile and provided a satisfactory ending to the film.
Dragged Across Concrete was definitely an enjoyable experience, the two and a half hour run-time never dragged as I was engrossed in the lives of those on screen. Ruthless and uncompromising in his vision, S. Craig Zahler delivers a gritty and dark thriller that plunges you into the depths of the world he has constructed, and you won't leave it unscathed.