Dragged Across Concrete Review
Bearing a title that doesn’t suggest any degree of subtlety, writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s third film builds on that early promise he demonstrated with the gruelling western Bone Tomahawk (2015) and tough prison thriller Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017). Dragged Across Concrete is a stylish neo-noir that serves as a throwback to those hardboiled crime thrillers of the seventies, recalling the assured work of Don Siegel or Sidney Lumet.
Had this been made several decades ago it might well have starred the likes of Clint Eastwood or Walter Matthau, playing the seasoned detective who resolutely doesn’t follow the rules. Here we get Mel Gibson as Brett Ridgeman, an embittered cop who has been gradually worn down by the rigours of the job. He might be proficient at putting the perps behind bars, but a bad attitude has blighted his career – and meant that he has remained at the same rank despite more than 30 years of service. Casting Gibson in such a role is an interesting choice, given that he has been no stranger to controversy himself over the years.
The heavy-handed methods of Ridgeman and his partner Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) eventually comes to a head when the officers are caught on camera during the harsh arrest of a Mexican American suspect. When the incriminating footage is leaked, their superior Lt. Calvert (Don Johnson) is suitably concerned, warning Ridgeman, “Couple more years out there and you're gonna be a human steamroller covered with spikes - and fuelled by bile”. Branded racists by the media, Calvert is pressured into action and the Officers duly find themselves suspended for six weeks without pay. The troubling theme of racism is raised, but then not addressed in any detail as the story progresses.
With no income, Ridgeman suddenly finds himself in a challenging position. His wife Melanie (Laurie Holden) has deteriorating health and daughter Sara (Jordyn Ashley Olson) is increasingly at risk of being assaulted in their crime-riddled neighbourhood. They must move out of the area and quickly - but scraping together the necessary cash is nigh impossible. At this point desperate Ridgeman hits upon the idea of robbing a notorious crime kingpin named Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann). Lurasetti has misgivings about the plan, considering it “bad - like lasagne in a can”, but against his better judgment agrees to support his partner.
In another neighbourhood, Henry Johns (acclaimed stage actor Tory Kittles) has mounting problems of his own. Fresh out of jail, he returns home to find his mother Jennifer (Vanessa Bell Calloway) on the game to fund a worsening drug addiction. Johns strives to get her back on the straight and narrow, along with making a better life for his bright wheelchair-bound younger brother Ethan (Myles Truitt). He just needs the funds – but who will employ an ex-con? Luckily his old pal Biscuit (Michael Jai White) has connections, promising to get them swift work – somebody is planning a big job and needs their help.
I must admit that an early bland trailer for Dragged Across Concrete didn’t exactly sell this film to me. It initially seemed like it could be just another dirty cop or heist movie, which have become a dime a dozen. Furthermore, much had been said about the film’s lengthy 159-minute running time, along with its deliberate pace – usually only afforded these days to filmmakers such as Tarantino. Fortunately, any reservations I had about the film were soon cast aside, as it rapidly had me gripped.
In my opinion this wasn’t a slog to sit through. In fact, my interest has wandered during far shorter movies. Make no mistake, this is a film that’s certainly in no rush. There are scenes where we observe the cops on a stakeout, as they sit in their car for inordinate amounts of time, exchanging banter or sharing their fears. The sporadic bursts of violence are often unsettling, with Zahler once again pulling no punches. Anyone familiar with the director’s other work will have some sense of what to expect. One grisly sequence involving key recovery sticks in the mind and may well make you recoil.
Much of what makes this film a cut above the norm is down to the care that Zahler puts into his writing, keen to develop the characters, with consistently sharp dialogue and well-crafted storytelling. Not to mention some compelling performances – this is easily the best work Gibson has done in front of the camera for many years.
To think too I had once pigeonholed Vaughn as simply a comedy actor. That notion was swiftly turned on its head after watching the brutal Brawl in Cell Block 99 a couple of years ago, where I was mesmerised by his intense performance. Vaughn is on good form here too, as the younger cop torn between upholding morals and loyalty to his partner. Several other cast members from Zahler’s previous films make a welcome return here as well, including Jennifer Carpenter, Udo Kier and Fred Melamed in small roles – yet still given an opportunity to shine.
Ridgeman and Johns come from very different backgrounds, yet both face the same dilemma. You might not find these central characters very likeable, as the film veers off into dubious territory. Crucially we are made to care about the fate of their families, and even some other minor characters who are introduced later in the narrative. It will come as no surprise to learn that the various plot threads will ultimately converge, leading to a protracted and gut-wrenchingly intense encounter.
For those with the patience, Dragged Across Concrete offers ample rewards. Zahler wore many hats on this production, even co-writing the wonderful soul-infused soundtrack. He scores admirably on all fronts, proving once again to be most definitely a name to watch.
The film was shot on a Red Weapon Helium 8K camera, delivering a pristine image in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Even in the many low lit scenes, there remains an impressive amount of detail. DoP Benji Bakshi's highly atmospheric lighting is faithfully reproduced.
The audio options are LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Dialogue is distinct throughout and the sporadic action sequences are delivered with considerable verve.
English subtitles are included and there is also the option for an audio description.
The disc extras comprise standard EPK material originally produced by Off The Wall Productions for the Lionsgate US release. These provide a reasonable amount of insight.
Elements of a Crime, Part 1 - Criminal Intent (17:37): Zahler and producer Dallas Sonnier take us into the inception of the film whilst key members of the cast explore how they were drawn to their characters through Zahler’s script.
Part 2 - Criminal Act (8:11): Zahler and his regular DoP Benji Bakshi discuss how they developed the visual look and feel of the film whilst the cast discuss their roles in more detail.
Part 3 - Criminal Concurrence (15:14): Zahler and editor Greg D’Auria take us through shaping the film in the cutting room whilst composer Jeff Herriott introduces the songs co-wrote with Zahler to produce an original soundtrack.
Moral Conflict - Creating Cinema That Challenges in a Blockbuster World (7:00): The cast and crew discuss how they united to fulfil Zahler’s creative vision in the movie and why they drove to find authenticity in an increasingly commercial release landscape.