If you’re a fan of Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, chances are you’re going to dig director/writer S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete. All three films are deliciously high caloric, cinematic meals, but thankfully Dragged Across Concrete stands on its own. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are the film’s biggest draws, but there’s much more behind the curtain.
Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) simply gets the job done as a wizened and tougher than nails police officer. His by any means necessary approach to apprehending a suspect, though welcomed by his partner Anthony (Vince Vaughn), isn’t met too kindly by their by the book boss Calvert (Don Johnson). To his credit, Calvert knows the rules of the games in today’s socio-political climate, and pressing your foot down (possibly Brett’s go-to strong arm tactic) on a crook’s face isn’t kosher (especially when it’s captured on video by a random neighbor).
Now these caught on camera cops are suspended sans pay for six weeks, and both of them desperately needs dough. Anthony is ready to pop the question to his longtime girlfriend, and Brett supports a wife with multiple sclerosis (Laurie Holden) and their teenage daughter (Jordyn Ashley Olsen). To make matters worse, Brett’s family lives in a neighborhood that’s filled with crime, and their daughter has been harrassed several times by the locals.
Swimming in this same universe is Henry John (Tory Kittles), a recently released convict whose mother has resorted to prostitution to make ends meet. He also has a younger brother who, inside his locked room, assumedly plays video games well into the morning. Henry may be free, but he has no money, and a close friend named Biscuit (Michael Jai White) immediately brings him back to a life of crime.
A sociopathic crook named Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann) also figures into the equation, as he’s an out-of-towner with a big operation just around the corner. There is also a woman (Jennifer Carpenter) who, after nervously waiting at a bus stop, decides that going back to work after maternity leave isn’t a good idea.
When Brett and Anthony resort to using their cop skills to temporarily jump on the other side of the fence (they plan to steal from crooks to make ends meet), these seemingly disparate forces eventually converge.
Along with his own imagination, Zahler pulls from many different genres (film noir, crime drama) and sources to craft a complex narrative that is, quite honestly, refreshingly hard to unpack upon first viewing. It’s a meaty and unwieldy narrative that may turn off some viewers (due to its length and methodical pacing), but I found every minute of this movie compelling.
I watched Dragged Across Concrete last night, and I initially felt about 15-20 minutes of the film could have been excised. Upon morning’s light, I reflected on the specific sequences and realized that, within the context of Zahler’s overall picture, they absolutely were necessary.
Like his previous works, Dragged Across Concrete has its share of stomach churning violence, and there is one moment that should make you feel just as uncomfortable as the final moments of Bone Tomahawk. That being said, there is a ton of exposition and plotting in Dragged Across Concrete before the actual event takes place, and this slow burn of a movie absolutely had me enthralled (again, this pacing will be praised by some and criticized by others).
Vaughn, who delivered his best cinematic performance in Brawl in Cell Block 99, does solid work in the picture, but the movie’s emotional gravitas lies in the world weary eyes and legs of Gibson. Never knowing when it’s time to quit, Brett is a character that’s easy to pull for (even when he’s making the wrong decisions).
As a huge S. Craig Zahler fan, it was great seeing the Brawl In Cell Block 99 crew (Vaughn, Carpenter, Johnson, Udo Kier) back in action with Dragged Across Concrete, and it’s also a plus that Brawl’s music artists (The O’Jays, Butch Tavares, Adi Armour, and Jeff Herriott) are back for the film’s soul infused soundtrack.
The biggest surprise for me was Tory Kittles’ (True Detective, Colony) performance, and without giving too much away he pretty much stole the show. Henry is a crook who may actually have a conscience, and don’t be surprised if he’s actually the smartest guy in the room.
Amidst all the hardboiled action and dire consequences that the movie dishes out, it’s a random conversation between Biscuit and Henry that’s my favorite moment. It’s a masterwork sequence between Kittles and Jai White, and hopefully both those actors will do more work with Zahler.
Directors such as Samuel Fuller (The Naked Kiss) and Sidney Lumet ( Prince of the City) were adept at creating multi-layered yarns about the suffocating gribs of city and suburban life, and Zahler energetically mines similar territory.
Well into the doldrums of middle age, I usually prefer movies be short and to the point, but by the end of two hours and 39 minutes, I wanted just a little bit more (maybe I’m a glutton for punishment!). Dragged Across Concrete is easily one of my favorite films this year, and it’s glad to see S. Craig Zahler continue to churn out great films.
***Dragged Across Concrete is now playing in theaters and is available On Demand.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5