The new film from S. Craig Zahler, DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE is a hefty film with a lot of balls in the air – many different characters, stories and viewpoints. However, they are not so much juggled as laid out and given room to breathe, resulting in a film that is engaging and methodical even as the chaos and violence pile up.
The plot has various strands, but the main story pivots around two police officers suspended for going beyond reasonable force, caught after being filmed by a civilian. Looking for the pay day he feels he is entitled to for his decades at the same rank, Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson), ropes in his partner Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) to take down a criminal and his associates, who include the for-hire Henry (Tory Kittles).
The performances of Gibson and Vaughn are central to the pacing of the film, and from the outset it’s clear Vaughn is dialled to 50% speed of his default motormouth setting. There’s something a little uncomfortable about watching Mel Gibson in a role that requires hints of bigotry and racism, but it does feel appropriate for him and the other characters of the film. The interplay between the two is darkly comedic (often just plain comedic), and a nice spin on the old cop/younger cop duo. The cliché is typically the close-to-retirement veteran wants to stay out of trouble, which simultaneously draws in the younger hothead – here we have the opposite, in an open reversal of Gibson’s famous LETHAL WEAPON days.
The money struggles of Gibson’s character, as well as the attempts of Henry to make money for his family after getting out of prison, cast differing lights upon the unemployed and under-salaried of the modern world. It’s an interesting dynamic and the prejudicial views of a number of characters (mainly Gibson and, to an extent, his wife played by Laurie Holden) will undoubtedly make some uncomfortable. Arseholes can be trampled on by society as well.
Not everything goes smoothly in this approach, random-feeling lines of dialogue feel like they have been run through the thesaurus function on a word processor. Regardless of their demeanour in other scenes, characters will occasionally speak of “vocation” rather than work, they “acclimatise” rather than settle in, and rather than withholding information they hold back on “the nature of this endeavour”. Although the occasions this happens are not terribly consistent, it mostly gels with the very deliberate and methodical pace of the film. Things are thought out and articulated in similarly considered ways. However, some stick out – a chief example is when Lurasetti and Ridgeman are suspended. The discussion somehow segues clumsily into the intolerance of the media in the face of police brutality, and this being an apparent irony. It not only sounds like an excerpt from some baiting think-piece but also stands out like a thumb just shot off someone’s hand.
Overall, however, DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE is a remarkable film for being gripping despite including all the parts of a stake-out and police/vigilante work that are supposed to be dull. With the exception of Kittles’ Henry, none of the characters are unambiguously sympathetic. The tone and style has clear Peckinpah feels to it, first-timers to Zahler will get heavy Tarantino vibes. The slow and deliberate pacing, bursts of ultra-violence, and a cache of reasonably dislikable people, has echoes of THE HATEFUL EIGHT.
Even the action scenes, when they occur, have a low tempo and play out in methodical fashion. There are no rapid cuts, and frequent dialogue-driven interludes and periods of calm punctuate these moments. The greater concern of the film is allowing peril to percolate, rather than getting the heart pumping.
DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE feels like a very particular vision – complete with rather tacked-on diversions – but an absorbing one, despite its occasionally over-florid dialogue. Given the space to settle, everything flows at a perfectly judged pace, taking you along with the current rather than dragging by force.