Director: S. Craig Zahler
Cast: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Don Johnson, Michael Jai White, Thomas Kretschmann
Runtime: 2 hrs 39 mins
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scene and Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 28 March 2019
Synopsis: DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE follows two police detectives who find themselves suspended when a video of their strong-arm tactics is leaked to the media. With little money and no options, the embittered policemen descend into the criminal underworld and find more than they wanted waiting in the shadows.
At close to three hours, ‘Dragged Across Concrete’ can feel deeply excruciating, especially for those expecting cop thrillers with pulsating action. Oh yes, rather than pander to those genre expectations, writer-director S. Craig Zahler subverts them almost entirely with a slow-burn (read: slowww-burn) crime drama that will very certainly test the patience of most mainstream viewers. Heck, it makes no apologies for making you watch Vince Vaughn munch an egg-and-cheese salad sandwich during a stakeout almost in real time, if only to have Mel Gibson remark at the end of it, “A single red ant could have eaten it faster.”
It bears reiterating that the action here has been stripped down to a minimum, so those holding out well into half of the movie for an elaborately staged vehicular chase or firefight later on should simply forgo such anticipation right from the beginning. There is but a protracted standoff between a gang of bank robbers and a pair of embittered cops (played by Gibson and Vaughn) which lasts the whole final third of the movie, but even so, the shootouts within proceed in fits and starts and never do build to anything thrilling. Aside from that standoff, the robbery itself is a non-starter; ditto the raid on a drug trafficker’s apartment, which ends up costing the pair of detectives a six-week suspension from their jobs.
In contrast to the bare-bones action, there are plenty of verbal exchanges in Zahler’s very deliberately-paced procedural. Amidst the detours and drawn-out conversations, the former novelist-turned-filmmaker lets loose his own Quentin Tarantino-esque impulses, indulging in extended stretches of speechifying that are intended for us to get into and under his characters. To be fair to Zahler, he does it better than most acolytes do, so those who enjoy the sort of cool-guys-with-guns dialogue will find much to savour, most of which are delivered with just the right mix of zing and world-weary scorn by Gibson and Vaughn.
It’s not hard to see why Gibson was attracted to the role of a lived-in cop at the end of his rope; as the grizzled police detective Brett Ridgeman, Gibson gives a fascinating performance that nuances the familiar image of rage and contempt from his previous cop roles with a heretofore unseen bone-deep exhaustion. Likewise, it’s clear why Zahler decided to cast his Vaughn next to Gibson; playing Ridgeman’s much younger partner Anthony Lurasetti, Vaughn completes the deprecating buddy-cop pair with deadpan precision. Thanks to the palpable chemistry between them, the long scenes of Gibson and Vaughn together on stakeout or just driving along the interstate come off far less monotonous than they could have been.
That’s not the same as saying that they are fascinating though, and frankly, we’d wish that Zahler had given the proceedings some much-needed momentum. Even with letting things unfold at their own pace, it should not take this long to establish Ridgeman’s disgruntlement (owing to a wife (Laurie Holden) with medical issues and a daughter (Jordyn Ashley Olson) being harassed by neighbourhood thugs) and Lurasetti’s ambivalence (as his moral compass comes into conflict with a fierce loyalty towards his partner). Nor for that matter, should it take its length to set up the former convict Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) as Ridgeman’s complement, who returns to his criminal ways in order to make ends meet for his addicted mother and disabled teenage brother.
Up till that standoff, the narrative holds these two threads distinct from each other. While Ridgeman and Lurasetti spend their time watching a certain Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann) whom they plan to rob, Johns psyches his childhood pal Biscuit (Michael Jai White) into going through with their latest job that has them acting as getaway drivers for Vogelmann and his two other equally sadistic partners. Suffice to say that it doesn’t end well for most of these characters when their paths do cross, often in bursts of violence that Zahler has made a signature in his films (see ‘Bone Tomahawk’ and ‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’) – as a case in point, one of the aforementioned characters will have his insides pulled out of his chest, in order that one of the bad guys may cut a key he swallowed out of his gut.
If it isn’t yet apparent, ‘Dragged Across Concrete’ is an extremely self-indulgent piece of neo-noir, which will only work for you if you’re prepared to accept its indulgences. The occasional violence is one; and then there are casual bits of racism and sexism, what with both detectives taking potshots at minorities and humiliating a half-naked Latina suspect; and last but most significantly is the storytelling itself, which makes no apologies spending a good 15 minutes introducing us to a female bank employee (Jennifer Carpenter) only to blow her hand away shortly after, or say make us sit through long, talky stakeouts and even longer, talkier car rides. No thanks to Zahler’s extreme genre deceleration, this is slow-burn crime drama at its most deliberate, so unless you’re prepared to sit through close to three hours of talk, you probably want to avoid being metaphorically dragged through this concrete.
(Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are drily entertaining as a self-deprecating buddy-cop pair, but this extremely deliberately paced crime drama is utter self-indulgence whose flashes of Tarantino-esque wit cannot make up for its sheer tedium)
Review by Gabriel Chong