“Dragged Across Concrete” Movie Review


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     If you’re already familiar with writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s previous work, then his new film, “Dragged Across Concrete”, will certainly come as no surprise, much less be shocking in any way.  His debut feature, “Bone Tomahawk” (2015), featured Kurt Russell in a lead role that would see him forced to confront a tribe of cannibals and lose in ways that would cost him and his men more than just a few scratches.  Zahler has a clear penchant for hyper realistic violence.  If his script calls for a character to have their head blown off, then that is exactly what you will see down to the very last gory detail.  He intends to shock, just when you least expect it, or perhaps more accurately, he’ll do it after his characters have had the opportunity to stick around a while and get to know their audience.  For some viewers, that may mean the 2 hour 39 minute run time of “Dragged Across Concrete” may be a bit overlong, but you can’t deny the effectiveness of the character development on display.  The result is more akin to episodic television than a feature film.  And that’s a good thing.

     Casting Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn as two overworked and under appreciated cops is also a good place to start when you have a story to tell.  And Zahler loads both of these characters with enough on screen exposition to probably fill two movies, but the fact we really learn about these guys pays dividends later.  When we first catch up with the duo, Brett Ridgeman (Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vaughn) are plain clothes narcotics detectives conducting an early morning stakeout on a suspected dealer’s residence.  Using a ruse, they get their man to exit through a window where both are waiting to take him into custody.

     The suspect doesn’t resist when Ridgeman takes him to the ground at gun point and proceeds to hold him there by placing his boot on the suspect’s head and neck.  Lurasetti searches his him and finds a gun, but the suspect won’t give up the location in the apartment where the stash is kept.  That is not until Ridgeman presses down harder with his foot on the suspect’s head that is caught between Ridgeman and the steel catwalk of a fire escape.  Zahler quick cuts to a nearby window where someone is watching and then comes back to the action where the drug dealer alerts Ridgeman he has a guest inside.  Interestingly enough, this is exactly where Zahler doesn’t take his time, and veers off the path of realism during several key scenes.

     Echoing today’s common annoyance of people filming everything with their phones, a witness to what occurred on the fire escape has sent a video he/she shot to the news, who has alerted the police department’s chain of command.  In one swift stroke, as if he is judge, jury, and executioner, their boss, Lt. Calvert (Don Johnson) in his only scene in the film, calls them into a meeting where they are given a 6 week suspension and are forced to hand over their badges.  Now it doesn’t really work that way in real life, and truth be told, Ridgeman’s actions are not overly excessive, nor would they appear that way on an iPhone video shot from across the street, but nonetheless, all of this is important in order to propel the story where Zahler really wants it to go.

     Some key details on Ridgeman reveal a cop just a month shy of his 60th birthday who lives in a bad neighborhood and is financially unable to move he and his wife, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, and his daughter, who is consistently picked on and assaulted by kids in their street, away from the city and to a place where they are more comfortable.  For a guy who has been on the job for more than 30 years, he certainly has very little to show for it, and he knows it.  Which is why he calls in a favor and receives intel on a crew who is said to be conducting a big money transaction that could easily be acquired by two people with the right skill set.  And Lurasetti, some 20 years younger but also struggling financially, doesn’t take a whole lot of convincing when Ridgeman lays out a plan to steal from known criminals.

     Along with our two cops, Zahler introduces another key player as well, giving us important information as we go along while clearly indicating he will play into what’s going at some point.  Henry (Tory Kittles) has just been released from prison and returns to find the world he left in complete shambles.  We instantly find out his mother has now resorted to prostitution in order to survive and continue to care for her handicapped younger son, something that is ended immediately as Henry lands a well paying gig courtesy of his long time buddy, Biscuit (Michael Jai White).  You quickly realize as all of this unfolds that our characters share quite a bit in common as far as their motives, particularly given the reasoning each of them utilizes to convince themselves that a criminal act is worth the risk if it means helping those at home.

     All of Zahler’s characters here exhibit a hard edge and spout the kind of dialogue that ensures we will not mistake which side they are on.  Much of it is racially charged and often said within groups of people who share the same beliefs.  You have one character who claims to be “liberal”, but has now become racist because of incidents involving black kids in the neighborhood.  As if kids of other ethnic groups are not capable of doing the very same things.  If anything, these characters are a clear indication of the tribal nature of our society of which Zahler is clearly attempting to convey.  He nails the typical banter between cops on an hours long stakeout, while also exploring the lives of the underprivileged and the urge to do what it takes to get out of a deplorable situation.  These characters are hungry for change in their lives, which is perhaps why Zahler stages a scene where we watch Lurasetti meticulously devour a sandwich during a stakeout with Ridgeman, as every bite is articulated with the most nauseating and annoying sounds the foley department could find.

     As it turns out, the true evil in the film isn’t either of the main players, but rather a small group of masked men who go to unspeakable lengths of cruelty and violence in order to accomplish their mission.  And they are so over the top at times that Zahler practically dares the audience to cheer for the crooked cops and the ex-convicts to somehow claim victory, even when the odds begin to stack against them.  “Dragged Across Concrete” is one of those films that will require you to indulge the filmmaker’s plea to get to know these characters well enough that when something terrible happens to them, you will actually care.  GRADE: B+