In this neo-noir world, where everyone is a bad guy, apprehension derived from the unexpected opens us up to S. Craig Zahler’s distinctly unpredictable storytelling.
You can try to categorise S. Craig Zahler films (Bone Tomahawk being a western and a horror, Brawl In Cell Block 99 being a neo-noir and a prison movie) but Dragged Across Concrete, like the writer-director’s previous work, boasts a belligerence towards narrative convention that defiantly refuses pigeonholing. It ironically defines the undefinable. Pairing the star of his previous film – Vince Vaughn – with Mel Gibson in full-on grizzled and angry mode, Zahler’s slow-burning crime-infused police versus crooks thriller sizzles with a bitterness towards life that excretes from every pore.
It can, at times, be too much to handle but Zahler invades the viewer’s instincts to create an emotional reaction that stings. Dragged Across Concrete does so through characters who’d rather step on you than help you across the street. These are largely unlikable men; both those committing the crimes and those trying to stop them. There are no heroes and villains, no light and dark, only different shades of immorality.
But we care. We care for the brutal detective who’s sick of his work being undervalued and his family tormented by crime-ridden streets he has for years tried to clean up. And we care for the ex-con, recently released from prison, whose morals, despite agreeing to, and partaking in, armed-robbery, appear to be the most conventionally agreeable. And inside this neo-noir world, where everyone is a bad guy, apprehension derived from the unexpected opens us up to Zahler’s distinctly unpredictable storytelling.
The film might meander at times, its sedate pace in the first half composed of seemingly incidental conversation, quiet introspection, and fleeting methodical violence. But it builds to a grand finish, the intricacy of Zahler’s detailing working harmoniously alongside the richness of his characters (even the ones that appear only minimally). It’s meticulous, much like the writer-director’s characteristic violence. He’s found a unique niche that is at odds with mainstream cinema but which, thanks to clear love of classical narrative, remains accessible.
It helps to have stars of the calibre of Mel Gibson as well as the ability to coax some of the best work out of Vince Vaughn. Tory Kittles is excellent as an ex-con out for one last big score while Jennifer Carpenter and Laurie Holden, their characters each battling the weight of very different demons, punctuate the testosterone through their own subplots.
But it’s Gibson who really shines; bedraggled and tired of a life that’s been fully lived, the untidiness of an unkempt and greying beard the physical manifestation of exhaustion doing the “right” thing. There’s a bit of Riggs in there, if you were to strip him of every shred of humour and make it physically impossible to smile. And there’s a lot of Clint Eastwood in a Don Siegel movie in there. Unpredictable and fuelled by rage, the actor’s police officer, Brett Ridgeman, is a man coming to terms with his fate; the unleashing of immoral characteristics that he must embrace and accept as having always existed in him.
Certainly, Dragged Across Concrete is at its best when the two opposing factors in this tale of a bank robbery and its aftermath come face to face. The Mexican stand-off between an armoured van and the cops’ battered car features everything from sniper rifles and smoke bombs to demolition derby tactics, a nod to police brutality amateur videos, and a stomach-churning search for a lost car key. It’s a brilliant illustration of the director’s visual approach that works almost like an X-rated cartoon, its almost comical elements displaying redacted humour and becoming resolutely adult-only thanks to a bleak, uncompromising tone and gruesome violence. Despite being 20 minutes too long, it’s another triumph for a filmmaker whose work possesses a singular identity. This may well be Zahler’s best work yet.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Written by: S. Craig Zahler
Starring: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden Fred Melamed, Udo Kier, Thomas Kretschmann, Don Johnson
Released: 2018 / Genre: Thriller
Country: USA / IMDB
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DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE is available on digital now and DVD & Blu-Ray from August 19.