❉ Nick Clement gives his verdict on the new crime flick from Bone Tomahawk’s S. Craig Zahler.
“By casting Gibson as one of the hate-filled police officers, Zahler gets to overtly comment on the actor’s years of personal problems, which have clouded his star-appeal and pushed him off onto the fringes of mainstream Hollywood acceptability over the last decade.”
S. Craig Zahler doesn’t fuck around with his movies. This much is a fact, whether or not you enthusiastically respond to his now-patented brand of filmic machismo and ultra-violence, and I’m guessing his newest creation, the cop neo-noir Dragged Across Concrete, will win him no new fans. After three, utterly nihilistic feature length efforts (other credits include 2015’s Bone Tomahawk and 2017’s Brawl in Cell Block 99) he’s demonstrated a wholly distinct cinematic personality that capitulates to no one but the creator; he’s living proof that the auteur theory isn’t nonsense that Bazin, Astruc, and Sarris made up on a lonely night. Zahler wears his influences (Tarantino, Peckinpah, and Hill) on his pulpy sleeves, and over the course of two and a half patient and exacting hours, punishes his morally askew characters for their ethically bankrupt decisions, and the audience for agreeing to take the ride; he’s a sadistic showman, no doubt smiling while pummelling everyone and everything in sight.
Dragged Across Concrete would have felt welcome back in the 1970s, but in 2019, a film this caustic and casually offensive (its characters are irredeemably racist and women are treated rather poorly to put it mildly…) will find a chorus of naysayers who will call it irresponsible if not downright inflammatory. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn star as a team of shoot-first and ask-questions-later detectives who get caught using boot-to-the-face tactics while arresting a suspect. The media is ready to pounce, calling the incident race-baiting, and their icy captain (Don Johnson, perfectly cast) gives them a six-week, unpaid suspension. This doesn’t sit well with the two cops, as they need their paychecks with both facing serious financial issues back at home. So, with desperation nipping at their heels, they decide to ambush a group of bank-robbers who have just pulled a score, looking to grab the loot and dispose of any bodies if necessary. Obviously, complications ensue, and carefully laid plans turn to shit.
By casting Gibson as one of the hate-filled police officers, Zahler gets to overtly comment on the iconic actor’s years of personal problems, which have clouded his star-appeal and pushed him off onto the fringes of mainstream Hollywood acceptability over the last decade. The role of a burnt-out cop with a chip on his shoulder fits Gibbo like a glove, and he delivers one of his best performances since the golden decade of the ’90s; his work here pairs very well with what he did in the underrated crime film Blood Father. Because Vaughn will forever be cemented in my mind as the asshole-funny-man from Swingers and Made, I’ll admit to having some trouble with him in purely dramatic roles. It’s not that he’s not solid or effective. It’s just that I’m constantly expecting him to crack a joke. But the film is stolen from both of the biggies by Tory Kittles, who plays a wild-card character that informs the twisty narrative in many ways. This is a movie about bad people doing cruel things to one another – for some that will be incentive to seek it out, and for others, a warning to avoid.
To say that no character is safe during the course of Dragged Across Concrete would be an understatement. Zahler is clearly in love with telling exactly the story that he wants to tell, and because the film feels like it’s often times insisting upon itself, I did begin to wonder just why the picture needed to be so long in the tooth; more disciplined editing might have done the film some favors, but in the end, Zahler was going for a slow-burn pace where tension was built by showcasing much of the action in long/wide shot with static cameras with a minimum of edits. He wants you to feel everything – the set-up, the anticipation, and then the pain. His aesthetic decisions remain interesting at nearly every turn of the film, and he once again conjures up some arresting visuals with cinematographer Benji Bakshi. The funky-jazzy-urban musical score adds flavor and vibe to the proceedings which often times turn very ugly and violent – this is a film where the practical blood/squibs and gun-shot-carnage budget was likely on par with other major departments.
So, as a filmmaker, where does Zahler go from here? He can continue to repeat himself and explore similar themes in similar milieus (didn’t hurt Scorsese, Mann, or Lumet) or he can branch out and try something new and unexpected. He’s fascinated by guns, by social bitterness, by colorful monologues concerning evil and eviler, and by people’s propensity for live-wire physical altercation, and his sensibilities, both written and visual, would seem to point to blunt-edged commentary mixed with a level of formal precision that smacks viewers in the face, demanding to be paid attention to. And that’s one of the best things that one might be able to say about Zahler’s abilities as a filmmaker – he’s able to draw you into scummy underworlds where you know the inhabitants are less than respectable and yet you’re compelled to follow them on their perilous journey. Dragged Across Concrete is the perfect title for the story it tells, and for the sensation that Zahler’s work leaves you feeling.
❉ ‘Dragged Across Concrete’ (158mins) receives its theatrical and VOD release in North America on 22 March 2019, and opens in UK cinemas on 19 April 2019, Cert 18. Directed by S. Craig Zahler. Cast includes Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Laurie Holden, Michael Jai White, Thomas Kretschmann, Udo Kier.
❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema and is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott.