LFF 2018: Dragged Across Concrete Review
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You may approach Dragged Across Concrete with caution after taking note of its runtime. Two hours and forty minutes seems excessively lavish for a director who has made his name with bone crunching, exploitation influenced dramas that have quickly gained him a loyal fan base. There aren’t many genre-inspired films that can justify staying onscreen for so long and yet S. Craig Zahler shifts gears into something a little different, without abandoning the tropes that made his last two releases such a blast.
Zahler’s brutal violence has been the most noticeable thing about his films so far but his movie-talk writing is the reason why Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 stood out from a now overcrowded market of modern day B-movie imitations. Dragged Across Concrete is Zahler flexing his script-writing muscles, and it should come as no surprise he has also churned out five novels since 2010, with his latest feeling like an adaptation of one of his own books.
Vince Vaughn is once again cast (a number of Cell Block’s cast also feature) in a lead role and under Zahler’s direction he is reminding us why everyone predicted such great things for him after Swingers 22 years ago. This time he is detective Lurasetti, the long time partner of Mel Gibson’s detective Ridgeman. Both suspended from the force after being captured on film being too rough with a Latino drug dealer, Ridgeman convinces his partner to help him stage a robbery to grab some much needed cash so he can move his family to a better neighbourhood.
People have found plenty of reason not to like Gibson out in the real world and his casting may well upset them further. His appearance plays into another of Zahler’s strengths which is to take archetypes and turn them into complicated characters. Ridgeman is certainly that, and it isn’t just his family woes that make you pity him despite his worst characteristics. Gibson is always a magnificent screen presence and here he’s a man out of time, a police officer of the same rank for 32 years, his eyes dead to the world while his moustached mouth churns out his words through gritted teeth.
While Ridgeman and Lurasetti stake out their intended target, on the other side of town Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) is just out of prison and searching for ways to make some money. He has his own family problems and gets involved in a big heist with his cousin Biscuit (Michael Jai White) that doesn’t exactly pan out as expected. It just so happens it’s the same job the two cops are tracking which guarantees their paths are bound to cross at some point.
There is no shortage of blunt violence in the film but the pacing is far more considered than in Zahler’s previous efforts and the emphasis is heavily placed on fleshing out his characters. Ridgeman isn’t a man you should like but Gibson turns him into someone you can live with succeeding, even if it’s just for the sake of his family. His pairing with Vaughn (who has a tendency to spurt out “anchovies” whenever he’s frustrated) brings out a natural chemistry between the two and you could enjoy several hours watching them verbally spar with each other.
Henry’s world is given less attention compared to the cops but Kittles has such laid back yet confident delivery he keeps us on track with a man, who like Ridgeman, is doing what he can to find a way out for his mother and wheelchair-bound younger brother. As mentioned earlier, familiar faces from Zahler’s last film also pop up, albeit briefly. That includes the always magnificent Udo Kier doing his creepy camp thing as a shady mobster and Jennifer Carter, who in the brief ten minutes she has gives you every reason to care for her safety.
The story gradually builds towards a tense showdown, and the culmination of the two cops and Henry’s arc reaches a tipping point. Some may call this the director's Jackie Brown but Zahler is far more than just a Tarantino rip-off artist (and surely not everyone with a verbose script writing style should be labelled merely a Quentin copycat). In reality, there is far more Lumet and Peckinpah to be seen in his style and wherever Zahler decides to go next will be very interesting indeed.