B-movie revivalist, S. Craig Zahler (the man responsible for the genre-bending gems, Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99) returns with a hard-boiled cop drama, Dragged Across Concrete, which unites his Cell Block 99 collaborator, Vince Vaughn, with veteran actor, Mel Gibson. Compared to Zahler’s previous films, is it slow-paced? YES. Is it brutal? YES. Is it borderline offensive? YES. Is it genre-bending? NO. His third feature film is less sophisticated in terms of genre, but not less sophisticated in terms of narrative. And yet, this is possibly the writer-director’s most ambitious project by far.
Similar to Zahler’s previous films, Dragged Across Concrete really takes its time to laze out in the pool of complication before unleashing the beast—where the titular ‘dragged-across-concrete’ scene is enacted. Zahler, as usual, loves to introduce his characters with low-key visual yet high-impact emotion. Gibson is Ridgeman, an experienced cop partnered with Vaughn’s Anthony. Caught in a brutal interrogation and witness abuse, Ridgeman and Anthony are suspended without payment. In dire need of money, the feat finally decide to engage in a dangerous business while in suspension. At the same time, another money-demanding chap, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) is dragged to the other side of the business. Clocking in at 159 minutes, this cop drama really takes its time to finally explode into the stand-off, which marks Zahler’s signature climax.
In Bone Tomahawk, Zahler only unravels limited clues and patiently dawdles in the exchange of pulpy dialogues before finally revealing the ‘bone tomahawk’ in the final 30 minutes. In Brawl in Cell Block 99, he does exactly the same formula before actually flaunting the titular brawl in the movie’s third act. Dragged Across Concrete uses exactly the same time-frame; the only difference is that it is quite straightforward and less kooky. However, it’s no less sentimental. Call me weird, but Zahler is a poet—who is adroitly picturing broken hearts with prideful B-movie. Bone Tomahawk is a beautiful story of sacrifice; Cell Block 99 is a heart-breaking romance; Dragged Across Concrete is a heart-wrenching story about interpersonal connection.
Zahler’s penchant for genre-bending is at minimum impact in this film. To compensate that, the director utilizes a completely different approach. The story often strays a bit too far from the action and the narrative thread only to provide more layer to the characters. Ridgeman is described as a man who gradually loses his compassion; we learn of it from a prolonged dialogue between him and Anthony. Ridgeman’s wife is sick while his daughter is harassed by neighborhood thugs (Zahler even goes further to depict the harassment on-screen even when it can be implicitly stated). At one time, Vaughn’s Anthony will go on to buy a ring to propose his girlfriend only to burst up in the flood of emotion. Even, there’s a completely unrelated sub-plot telling a backstory of a completely minor character. Zahler uses up his 159 minutes to picture the emotional state of the characters.
When it comes to the action sequences, Dragged Across Concrete‘s visual benchmark is closest to Cell Block 99. The brutal scenes are visceral and over-the-top, making juxtaposition with its pulpy dialogues. The film’s most uncomfortable scenes are often depicted with sheer brutality; however, it’s actually the film’s nature to be close to offensiveness is what makes it uncomfortable to watch. The border between satire and downright offensiveness is only slightly visible. However, it is undeniably that Zahler’s decision to pair up Gibson and Vaughn in his trademark, sentimental B-movie bonanza is a toughly perfect one. The feat lifts the whole film even when most of the time this feels slow-burn, somber, and conversation-heavy.
Dragged Across Concrete (2019)
Crime, Drama Written & Directed by: S. Craig Zahler Starred by: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles Runtime: 159 mins (119 mins in Indonesia)