One of the most original voices in filmmaking in the past few years is writer/director S. Craig Zahler. A true artist, Zahler was a novelist and a musician before he ever dabbled in film. Due to that, he brings a unique, and highly-novelistic style to his movies. Zahler made his movie debut as a writer-director in 2015 with Bone Tomahawk. This horror-western starring Kurt Russell made waves; immediately garnering critical attention and a cult audience. I can easily say that Bone Tomahawk is one of the most original, genre mixing movies I’ve ever seen. Thus, I was happy to be part of this picture’s cult audience, and couldn’t wait to see what this writer-director would do next.
For his next effort, Zahler put his stamp on the prison flick subgenre with Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017). Once again, Zahler attached some star-power in the uncharacteristic casting of Vince Vaughn as a tough guy in a bad situation. The idea of a sophomore picture is to establish your style further and expand upon it. With Brawl in Cell Block 99, Zahler did precisely that. This genre-bending film is a wonderful tribute to the exploitation film. All while being a genuinely original, and carefully paced piece of work.
Needless to say, I was excited when I heard about Zahler’s third picture, Dragged Across Concrete. With the film in review, the writer-director once again gives us his take on the crime drama. This time around though, it’s not a prison flick, but a cop movie. Dragged Across Concrete follows detectives Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony “Tony” Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn). After being suspended for an extended period for using excessive force, the cops must make ends meet. To do so, Ridgeman and Tony decide to steal a considerable score from a group of exceptionally-violent criminals.
In many ways, Dragged Across Concrete is a solid crime drama. Sure, the plot isn’t the most original one; but that’s not the point when it comes to this genre. To the contrary, the point is to put a unique spin on tried-and-true tropes. Zahler once again does that by employing his cinematic suits: Novelistic pacing, an overhanging dread, and visceral violence. More than anything, the suspense and dread are the keys to making this picture play as well as it does. Yes, you know the story probably won’t end well; but you will wonder how it all will unfold.
The film’s casting is also excellent. Although, some would argue that casting Mel Gibson as a worn-down, racist cop is a little too on-the-nose. I, however, think casting Gibson in such a part is perfect as he does an excellent job bringing a realistic character to screen. If there was one actor made to play in the field of crime fiction, it’s Gibson. Vaughn and the rest of the cast turn in excellent performances as well; even if the majority of the characters played by this cast are highly-unlikeable, but more on that shortly.
As much as I’ve praised Zahler’s previous films in the opening of this review, the fact of the matter is that one of the writer-director’s unique approaches is ultimately what hurts this newest film. Normally, the slow, novelistic pacing Zahler uses in his movies are a large part of what makes them unique. Alas, in the case of Dragged Across Concrete the pacing is downright monotonous and only works about half the time. The film in review is 2 hours and 39 minutes but feels like a solid 3 hours. The movie’s molasses-like pacing can be attributed to many of its incredibly overindulgent dialogue scenes. Some of which make Quentin Tarantino’s most overlong dialogue scenes seem like a brisk walk in the park. Of course, it doesn’t help that characters are riding around in vehicles for about 60% of the film’s runtime.
Nor does it help that the majority of Dragged Across Concrete’s characters are unlikeable. Sure, many of these characters are scumbags. But it would help if any of them were a little more entertaining, or relatable. As great as the cast is here, I found it difficult to become genuinely invested in any of their characters. Particularly that of Jennifer Carpenter’s character, Kelly Summer, who is completely unnecessary story.
I believe that Dragged Across Concrete had the potential to be great. Sadly though, the movie ends up being a bit like Crash (2004). Well, except for the fact that the film in review has style and is ultimately watchable. Despite its flaws, I found Dragged Across Concrete to be a decent film; but I would recommend it to any hardcore crime fiction fans or those of Zahler’s work. Be warned though; you aren’t going to get the fun grindhouse-style flick that this movie’s title or trailer is selling you. Though, the film does live up to its title; thanks to both gritty content and pacing.
Dragged Across Is Now Playing In Limited Theatrical Release & Is Available To Rent on All Major Streaming Services!