Director: S. Craig Zahler
Script: S. Craig Zahler
Cast: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Thomas Kretschmann, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Fred Melamed, Udo Kier
Running time: 169 minutes
Dragged Across Concrete is a story about morality. S. Craig Zahler’s third film as a writer/director tells a tale of several intertwining parts – two cops laid off from their jobs thanks to their strongarm tactics looking for the money they feel they are owed, a criminal recently released from prison looking to support his disabled brother and prostitute mother, a gang of sadistic criminals and a woman returning to work following the birth of her baby son. These four threads, initially disparate, come together in explosive and bloody fashion.
Anyone who has been following Zahler’s career will recognise his style of filmmaking. A provocateur often compared to the likes of Quentin Tarantino, his films are chock full of mundane character moments punctuated by bursts of savage violence. His debut, Bone Tomahawk, for all it’s horror tropes, was a fantastic western, while Brawl In Cell Block 99 was a savage prison thriller. Neither of these films plumbed the depths of Dragged Across Concrete, probably his most challenging film yet.
Arguably a slightly less brutal film (although it’s violent bursts are still not for the squeamish) Concrete stands out for its largely reprehensible cast of characters. These are bad people and they do bad things, sometimes, however, for good reasons. Ridgman (Gibson) and Larusetti (Vaughn) are the bad cop/bad cop duo who’s antiquated tactics land them in trouble when a video of them roughing up a drug dealer hits social media. It’s a mix of old school bravado with a side helping of casual racism and misogyny that flies in the face of modern PC values, made even more prescient by the casting of Gibson.
Mel Gibson’s presence is hard to ignore here. Ridgman is, for all intents and purposes, very much the gruff action man that the actor would have played in the 80s and 90s, cut from similar cloth to Martin Riggs, but the actor’s personal transgressions also loom large over the story. Ridgman may be an honourable man to his family and job but he’s volatile, his behaviour towards individuals motivated by race and other prejudices. Gibson’s casting here can’t have been an accident and it’s a meta layer to Zahler’s bigger tableaux.
What is clear through all of this is that Zahler is simply presenting his story as-is for the audience to analyse and device what is right and what is wrong. Sure, the gang of criminals led by Vogelmann (Kretschmann) are clearly baddies and do some reprehensible things, but what of Ridgman, Larusetti and, arguably the closest the film has to a hero figure, Johns (Kittles)? These are all flawed men who do bad things, but their motives are inherently good. We’re also asked to analyse their world, the social structure and the animosity within the communities we’re shown, without apparent bias, to conclude what we will about the morality or lack thereof that is present.
It’s not an easy film to digest and it’s certainly as far from mainstream as Zahler’s previous two releases, even going as far as being aggressively alienating with its cinematography and sound design. Shot almost entirely with static cameras, full of long takes and devoid of any kind of incidental score, with the only music present being played on radios within scenes, Dragged Across Concrete feels at times more like a play than a film, with every frame lushly composed and begging to be analysed. There’s an impressive visual craft on display here.
It’s a shame, then, that the film as a whole package doesn’t entirely nail the landing. All of the slow and deliberate pacing coupled with the films 169min running time can really emphasise those slower moments. Sure, Zahler’s films aren’t exactly swift affairs, with Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 clocking up around 132mins each, but where those both had a menacing slow burn, Dragged Across Concrete just, pardon the pun, drags. Most egregiously we get a character who receives a lengthy introduction around halfway into the film only to be rendered insignificant to the story two scenes later (no spoilers!) The ending as well leaves much to be desired, again feeling like it carries on a good 15 minutes after it should have, all of which adds up to a disappointingly flawed movie that could have done with a few more days in the editing booth. It’s a shame – there’s a lot to love about this film with its brooding, challenging story and beautifully composed visuals, but it’s far too flabby for its own good to be brilliant.
- Elements of a Crime – Part One: Criminal Intent
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.
- Elements of a Crime – Part Two: Criminal Act
Zahler and his regular Director of Photography Benji Bakshi discuss how they developed the visual look and feel of the film whilst the cast discuss their roles in more detail.
- Elements of a Crime – Part Three: Criminal Concurrence
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
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.
- Elements of a Crime – Part One: Criminal Intent
The bonus features are a little sparse in their run time but are certainly dense in their content, as the director, cast and crew give talking heads discussing various aspects of the film. It’s certainly interesting from a craft point of view as to why Zahler and his team made the creative decisions they did and the director himself certainly comes across as a fascinating and unpretentious auteur who is keen to be involved in all stages of making his films.