DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: S. CRAIG ZAHLER / STARRING: MEL GIBSON, VINCE VAUGHN, TORY KITTLES, MICHAEL JAI WHITE, JENNIFER CARPENTER / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 19TH
With his first two movies - brutal Western Bone Tomahawk and prison drama Brawl in Cell Block 99 - director S. Craig Zahler has established himself as one of the most distinctive (and violent) new voices in American cinema. Dragged Across Concrete is set to further enhance that reputation. A slow, sprawling crime drama punctuated by Zahler’s trademark ultraviolence; it’s a slow-burn, but one that more than rewards your patience.
The film follows two cops, Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), who, after being filmed getting heavy-handed with a suspect, find themselves suspended without pay. To make up for their sudden loss of income, not to mention the modest life they can give their loved ones on a cop’s salary, the aging Ridgeman convinces his reluctant partner to join him in heisting money off criminals.
Elsewhere, recently released con Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) takes on a dangerous job in order to support his drug addict mother and disabled brother; a new mother (Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter) reluctantly returns to work, and a gang of extremely violent, masked criminals go about their business with ruthless efficiency. Slowly, the lives of these disparate group of characters come to intersect, with deadly results.
Just as Zahler’s previous movies were radically different takes on Western and prison movies, here he gleefully subverts the conventions of the cop buddy movie. Wisecracks are kept to a minimum, the violence is painfully realistic, and the motivations of the pair are dubious at best. Featuring both Gibson - one half of the greatest duo in cop movies - and Don Johnson as their lieutenant only further reinforces the point that this is about as far from your conventional cop movie as it’s possible to get.
Casting Gibson is somewhat of a masterstroke. Besides the stark contrast between Ridgeman and Martin Riggs, the actor’s - let’s say ‘colourful’ - off-screen persona brings with it a wealth of baggage it’s impossible to shake, adding a murkier dimension to an already less-than-honourable character. It’s the best Gibson’s been since returning from exile, with his world-weariness and knowledge that his advancing years - well aware that he’s getting too old for this shit - means he’s running out of time to give his family (including an under-used Laurie Holden) the life they deserve adding a touch of pathos to what could be an otherwise unsympathetic character.
As for Vaughn, he follows his serious turns in the likes of Brawl in Cell Block 99 and True Detective with another impressive performance here. He’s arguably a better straight actor than a comedic one, and he capably holds his own against Gibson, with the two of them sharing a genuine chemistry.
Elsewhere, it’s always good to see Carpenter on the big screen, albeit in a restricted role - somewhat of a theme with the female characters - and Spawn fans will get a kick out of a lively turn from Michael Jai White (although considering some of the things that happen to him, perhaps not).
With its languid pace, unsavoury characters, and occasional bursts of graphic violence, Dragged Across Concrete is not for everyone. As a character study into the effects of violence of individuals and those around them, it’s compelling viewing, and confirms Zahler’s position as an exciting voice in American cinema.