The worst thing that you could possibly do when walking into one of S. Craig Zahler’s films — especially his newest one, Dragged Across Concrete — is expect something normal.
Zahler first made a name for himself back in 2015 with Bone Tomahawk, which is this really weird, hyper-violent western tragedy that randomly turns into this gruesome horror movie about cannibals halfway through.
He returned in 2017 with Brawl in Cell Block 99 — a film that, in my mind, is much better than Bone Tomahawk but is still incredibly gory and takes on some pretty dicey subject matter and thematic content.
Now, he’s back with Dragged Across Concrete, which is a detective action-thriller of sorts that might prove to be his most controversial film yet.
Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) might be cops, but they are most certainly not good people.
That fact is established right from the get-go as we see them constantly harass, insult and disrespect the suspects they’re handling — most of whom are different ethnicities than them — in the fictions city of Bulwark.
Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) isn’t necessarily a good person, either. To be fair, he’s arguably trying a lot harder to be given that he was recently released from prison and now wants nothing more from life than to provide for his mother, who’s a prostitute (even though that hardly factors into the movie), and his brother, who’s handicapped (come to think of it, neither of these characters really factor into this movie).
Henry isn’t stupid, though. The only place an ex-con is going to get enough money to seriously change his situation is through a life of crime.
Ridgeman and Lurasetti find themselves in a somewhat similar situation after a video of the two of them roughing up one of their suspects goes virals. With their boss, Lt. G. Calvert (Don Johnson — like, THE Don Johnson) having no choice but to place them on a six-week leave without pay, the two are in desperate need of a paycheck.
Ridgeman perhaps more so than Lurassetti in that regard as he’s worried for his daughter’s safety if they even need to spend one more night in the apartment that his family has been living in (“I never thought I was racist until we moved here,” his wife, played by Laurie Holden, says, just in case you needed any more evidence that this movie was about bad people).
Some extra cash wouldn’t hurt Lurassetti’s situation either, though, as he’s trying to save up money to propose to his girlfriend and then start a new life.
So, when Ridgeman wakes his partner up in the middle of the night and proposes the two go on a stakeout and plan a heist to rob some wealthy bank robbers all Triple Frontier style, Lurassetti goes along with it.
Thing is, he really shouldn’t have because things quickly spiral out of control in a really challenging, unpredictable kind of way that could only come from a mind like Zahler.
Dragged Across Concrete is a movie that’s dripping — like, quite literally dripping — with subtext. Sure, you could try to watch it just as a mindless action-thriller that’s paying homage to 70s action movies like Death Wish (not the Bruce Willis Death Wish remake, although I am curious what Zahler would think of that movie) or Dirty Harry, but that’d be a pretty hard task considering how combative this film is about its politics.
I mean, apart from the fact that the two “heroes” are racist a-holes, just look at the cast if you need any further proof. Vaughn and Gibson are both outspoken conservatives who aren’t strangers to controversy — the former having said some things about gun control that a lot of people weren’t too big fans of and the latter, well, the latter being Mel Gibson.
Point is, Zahler knew what he was doing here and knew that was going to cause reactions between people.
The problem — or maybe it’s not even a problem, it’s just this weird feature that I haven’t quite figured out what to do with — with Dragged Across Concrete is that it doesn’t really care what kind of reaction you have.
Do you love the fact that this film features two broken, gross people who go on to find some kind of redemption by the time the credits roll? Great! Or, maybe you’re horrified by the things these people say and do and would never want to see any good thing come their way, ever? Also an acceptable reaction!
Point is, Zahler doesn’t really seem all too concerned with making any kind of point with all of this and rather seems to almost be trolling us in proving that he’s capable of pulling off a movie that both sides of the political spectrum will get something completely different out of. I’m not going to pretend that’s an easy task — because it isn’t — but it still leaves me wishing he’d just go somewhere with all of this.
That being said, in case there was any doubt that he was trolling us in all of this, just look at the 20-minute subplot that revolves around Laurie Holden returning to work after maternity leave and see where she ends up by the end of the movie. That moment, right there, exists just to show that Dragged Across Concrete isn’t interested in playing by other film’s rules.
There’s no use in denying that Dragged Across Concrete is an impeccably well-made film with some solid direction from Zahler. While the 2 hour and 39-minute runtime is slightly obnoxious, his weird blend of gross-out moments and dark humor (this stupid, throw-away line about a dead rat and refrigerator made me laugh way too hard) are once again amusing. There’s also no getting around the fact that Gibson and Vaughn both turn in great performances here, even if it’s slightly troubling where they might be channeling those performances from.
At the end of the day, Dragged Across Concrete had an opportunity to say something really powerful, but winds up just being this weird exercise in film. I don’t know, maybe there’s some kind of point to be made about how we two completely different people can watch this movie and get something out of it, meaning we aren’t as different from one another that we might think, but it really just feels like Zahler is playing with our emotions, here. I’m not strictly opposed to that (the more I think about it, the more impressive it becomes), but I’m also not sure if this is the kind of thing we *really* need right now? Like, is making a movie in which Mel Gibson ALMOST calls people the n-word but then cuts himself short a bunch of times really the thing that’s going to bring us all together? Really?
I guess that, at the end of the day, it’s just in the eyes of the beholder.
Watch the trailer for Dragged Across Concrete here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!
'Dragged Across Concrete' - Weird flex, but ok [REVIEW]6