S. Craig Zahler is a singular voice in cinema, one who is willing to take pulp concepts and craft them into unflinchingly violent features. Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99 have shown him to be a writer-director who knows how to use genre tropes as a starting point to deliver character rich dramas with brutal consequences and Dragged Across Concrete continues this trend. It’s a deeply nihilistic tale which adds grit and gravel to the buddy-cop picture.
Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are Ridgeman and Lurasetti, a pair of old school cops willing to bend the rules to breaking point in order to take criminals off the streets. They’re suspended without pay when caught on video roughing-up a suspect, but Ridgeman is desperate for cash to help his family move from their rough neighbourhood. They decide to use their skills to cross legal lines, something which takes them into a darker, more dangerous place than they ever contemplated. You know this won’t end well.
Dragged Across Concrete plays-out like a cinematic novel. It’s a film with little digressions which expand on supporting characters, unveiling who they are so that we get to know them and understand them. A less assured director may have felt the need to cut these, but Zahler lets his film breathe, unfolding at a deliberate pace (it clocks in at 2 hours 39 minutes). It’s almost poetic in its stillness, with Zahler setting-up the monotony of a stakeout and the realism of a low-key car chase. It’s this minutiae which helps make Dragged Across Concrete great, putting it on the same plain as the likes of The French Connection and Prince Of The City.
And speaking of greatness – Dragged Across Concrete has some beautifully worn performances from its cast. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are exceptional as the cops suffering under the implications of woke political correctness. Both ditch their leading man credentials to embrace their inner character actors. There’s no room for glamour – this is a hard-boiled film which feels liked it was pulled from the 1970s. The streets aren’t getting any safer, but Ridgeman and Lurasetti are forced to change their ways to keep within a world which sees a slap on the wrist as police brutality. Gibson is willing to tackle this head-on, delivering a layered performance with a tremendous amount of stillness. Some will attack him for Ridgeman’s politics, while others will applaud him for embracing the character’s darker elements. Gibson deserves to be lauded for this brave move. He has a lot of moments which offer different shades to his character – be that when he’s talking with his wife (Laurie Holden) or being reprimanded by his boss (a great Don Johnson). He’s a man who has been made tough by the dangerous world he inhibits. Vaughn is equally good, playing his role with the right amount of camaraderie and respect for Gibson. His character might not be as rich, but his performance is no less impressive. Tory Kittles is also excellent as the low-tier criminal who also gets more than he bargained for as a way of scoring some cash.
Zahler’s script for Dragged Across Concrete is punchy and well written. The inter-play between Gibson and Vaughn includes some incredible (and at times darkly funny) dialogue which is up there with the type of thing Raymond Chandler would have punched out on his battered Underwood. A lot of writers attempt to deliver this style of dialogue – most fail but Zahler is one of the few who has the right ear for crafting wise-ass cracks and tough put-downs.
Beautifully crafted and brutal, Dragged Across Concrete is a weighty crime drama with sterling performances from Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn. This particular dark shade of bleak may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re willing to delve into S. Craig Zahler’s world then you’ll be rewarded with a powerful cinematic experience.