Drag me to Mel.
Dragged Across Concrete is the kind of film which shouldn’t work; over two-and-a-half hours long, glacial in pace and with an almost right-wing sensibility when it comes to the law. But Steven Craig Zahler’s third film is as compelling as his previous work, and well worth that huge chunk of your evening.
Two detectives, Brett Ridgeman played an aged and grizzled Mel Gibson, the other, Anthony Lurasetti, played by a middle-aged Vince Vaughn, get suspended for heavy-handed tactics. When in search of a big payoff, their paths will eventually cross with Henry Johns – played by the excellently named Tory Kittles – a recently released convict also seeking to make money for his mother and young, disabled brother.
Much like his previous films – anyone catch Bone Tomahawk? – this is a film which gives you slow, brutal reality, with very little fanfare or glorification of the gore in which deals. But that’s not to say that gore is all it gives, with enough dark and gloomy scenes, as well as the mysterious nature of the crime caper at the film’s centre, you can probably make a case for calling this neo-noir.
There is nothing cute or loving in this film, if there is anything you spot which falls into that category expect it to be obliterated at some point. Characters are brought in, simply to be wiped out, but everyone gets coloured in and fleshed out. Which is partly why the film runs for as long as it does. So let’s address the running time and why it’s worth it.
‘If there is anything you spot which is cute or loving, expect it to be obliterated.’
Sure, you can make a much tighter film, I’m always a fan of having something gritty but lean, yet on this occasion it really works in the films favour to give justification for each character being where they are. Mel Gibson – a potentially problematic piece of casting in and of itself – does great work at giving you an understanding of why his character is making the choices he is. Likewise, on the opposite side of the law, Henry Johns has his own reasons for crossing lines. There is more than one point of focus here, which allows you to forgo taking a side and just enjoy how things play out.
The one element of the film which might play out uncomfortably on reflection, is that petty criminals – as in, not the detectives or the hired Henry Johns and his pal – are all part of an ethnic minority in some way. Excessive force appears to want justification, or it’s used as the reason a neighbourhood has gone bad and it lingers in the background. Similarly, the true “villains” of the piece are usually kept out of the limelight, wearing goggles and balaclavas to protect their identities. Where there is a possible claim for balance in the main characters and their motivations, you can also see a counterclaim that this film is saying only minorities commit crime while tough cops get a “raw deal”.
Musically, while not uncomfortable, the soundtrack feels very odd. The light jazz seems explainable as Lurasetti’s music style of choice – though who knows why – but there is some nondescript soul and R&B. It all feels oddly placed and ‘Shotgun Safari’ by The O’Jays feels a little too on-the-nose.
Aside from that, there is some glib humour and some great, tense scenes. Whether it’s a darkly lit conversation in the back office of a fancy suit store, or the ‘key’ scene in the van, there are so many interesting, captivating things about the film despite its slow nature. And when I say slow, I don’t mean that it simmers, I mean it’s methodical. In the same way that the pursuit in Bone Tomahawk takes days, so does a stakeout here.
If you’re faint-hearted, have the attention span of a three-year-old or you just hate Mel Gibson (and can you really blame people?) then it’s clearly not a film for you. The title gives you the greatest indication of what’s going to befall the characters of this film. Do you want to see people dragged across concrete? Director Zahler is having fun, that’s clear, but not everyone will.