In his most mature work to date, writer, director and modern exploitation savant S. Craig Zahler crafts a meticulously sprawling crime thriller with Dragged Across Concrete, a 158-minute homage to the gritty cop dramas of yore.
The film features Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson as two grizzled detectives who are put on suspension after their somewhat rough apprehension of a drug dealer was caught on tape and released to the news. Gibson’s character of Brett Ridgeman gets a tip from an informant that there’s a big score about to happen, and he and Vaughn’s Anthony Lurasetti make the decision to rob them.
While inherently unsympathetic, the two have an undeniable chemistry with one another, making some of the long stakeout sequences the most enjoyable elements of the film as they bicker and banter like any weathered detective who’s seen some shit would.
Ridgeman is on the eve of his 60th birthday and hasn’t had an advancement in the department for 27 years. He’s reluctant to adapt to new social norms and allows his casual racism to go unchecked. He’s a relic from a bygone era and fully aware of it, actively railing against a time when all police work is held under a microscope and outrage culture reigns supreme.
Zahler is the type of director who seems to consistently march to the beat of his own drum, not concerning himself with catering to a wide audience and unafraid to take risks with his creative decisions. Dragged is deliberate in its pacing, with drawn-out sequences involving Vaughn and Gibson in the car either staking out their marks or tailing them in slow pursuit.
Its runtime is daunting, and while it could have easily been trimmed down to a more manageable level, Zahler’s dedication to his characters prevents this from happening, even those in seemingly insignificant roles, such as that of Jennifer Carpenter who plays a new mother on her first day back to work after maternity leave. Despite being nearly three hours long, I found myself completely engaged the entire time, never tiring of what I was watching on screen.
Certainly most discussion surrounding this film will be about its two biggest stars, whose real-life viewpoints will no doubt spark conversations that bleed into the context of this film, but doing so causes an unfortunate disservice to the film’s third lead, Henry, played by Tory Kittles. Henry plays a felon recently released from prison who reluctantly joins his friend, played by Michael Jai White, on a job in order to get some money together for his mother and handicapped brother.
Unfortunately, the man he agrees to work for is the same guy Ridgeman and Lurasetti are looking to rob. He may not get top billing, but in many ways this is Henry’s story and acts as a satisfying counterpoint to the ethos held by Ridgeman.
Dragged is a slow-burn thriller with an emphasis on character and dialogue, and it works tremendously well with Zahler’s unmistakable writing, which has a proclivity for whip-smart quips and smartly delivered conversations. Like his previous films, there’s an aura of comedy surrounding the ugliness of the narrative, allowing the audience small moments of reprieve in between the disastrous choices being made by the characters.
Those familiar with Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 will be aware that this director doesn’t shy away from graphic violence in his films, and while its title may imply this is Zahler’s bloodiest affair yet, the level of carnage in Dragged Across Concrete is more subdued than his previous titles. That isn’t to say it’s devoid of action, far from it, but rather than forcing them in at an even clip to keep short attention spans at bay, Zahler allows the story to progress naturally. When the script calls for it, he doesn’t hesitate to administer a healthy dose of brutal violence that is as realistic as it is shocking.
Like his two previous films, Zahler also produced the score for Dragged Across Concrete, mixing in a powerful soul soundtrack with a smattering of jazz thrown in for good measure. Though the film is set in the modern era, it reinforces the old-school, cop-drama motif by which this film is clearly inspired.
Rarely do I ever imagine myself revisiting a feature with a runtime as long as Dragged Across Concrete, but it’s a film I can’t wait to come back to in the near future. It’s a fearless movie that’s uncompromising and fiercely entertaining, cementing S. Craig Zahler as a master of genre cinema.