Dragged Across Concrete
Run Time: 2 hours 39 minutes
Stars: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles, Jennifer Carpenter
Writer/Director: S. Craig Zahler
Two and a half hours-plus is a long time to spend in the company of two burned-out, racist cops who spend a good deal of that period sitting uncomfortably in their cruiser following crooks and sniping at each other like a too-long-married couple. But the cops in this case are played by Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, actors who have made their careers chewing on the ironic nuances of film dialogue, and few screenwriters give their actors more conversational meat than writer/director S. Craig Zahler.
We first meet Gibson and Vaughn’s cops getting a little rough with a drug dealer. A viral video lands them on suspension without pay (Don Johnson makes an appearance as their by-the-book boss) and the embittered pair decide to make some extra dough shaking down a few crooks. It all goes horribly wrong, of course, as they stumble upon the most harrowing bank robbery you can imagine. A long cat-and-mouse sequence follows as the cops trail the robbers’ stolen armored truck from the city to a remote industrial site, where the final bloody blow-out erupts.
Zahler is notorious for his graphically brutal films — Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 are not to be enjoyed after a large dinner out, and neither is his latest, Dragged Across Concrete. In fact, although no one actually gets dragged across concrete in this film, that would be pretty tame stuff compared to the machine gun executions, mass murders, casual killings, and disembowelment (post-mortem, thank goodness) that highlight the movie’s set pieces.
It would be easy to dismiss Zahler as a grindhouse hack if not for the sheer artfulness of his work. Few action film directors put such care into each and every shot. And few screenwriters of any genre lavish such attention to the words put into the mouths of their characters. Zahler’s people speak a sort of street-smart poetry, conjuring vivid allusions out of thin air, baring their souls with operatic abandon. Most of the populace in Zahler’s films bear their reprehensibility on their sleeves, but it’s seldom a mindless condition.
That attention to backstory extends even to Zahler’s peripheral characters — and that has a lot to do with why Dragged Across Concrete takes so long to wrap itself up. A diner waitress, a jewelry store clerk, a bank manager — they all get two or three more lines than such characters would ever utter in another film; just enough to put a little flesh on the bones of a purely functional character. Likewise, we become intimately involved with the driver of the armored truck, a sad-eyed ex-con (True Detective‘s Tory Kittles) who is, as Gibson’s cop eventually realizes, a lot smarter than he acts.
Movies with such a high body count usually render their many victims as ciphers: the nameless passerby caught in a crossfire, the faceless bank teller in the wrong place at the wrong time. But in one extended passage, Zahler departs from his narrative completely to introduce us to a young mom (Dexter‘s Jennifer Carpenter) who is about to have a very bad day at the hands of some bank robbers. On one hand such attention to a marginal character seems maudlin — but Zahler is intent on making clear that when it comes to crime, there are no anonymous victims.