Perspective and compassion can too easily go by the way side…
Dragged Across Concrete is a cold and calculating crime thriller that has such a deliberate and borderline languid pace that it reminds you of some of the classic and understated 70’s crime thrillers that it is mimicking in more ways than one.
Two police detectives 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.
It’s not a movie for everyone as Writer/Director S. Craig Zahler certainly has a unique and drawn out tone to his films but where Dragged Across Concrete really does stand out is that it’s a crime thriller that allows time for its characters to play inside the moments where they aren’t necessarily trying to drive the narrative. Ultimately it’s an ugly but wholly fascinating character drama.
Zahler’s films really do have a very specific tone to them as he really pulls from the films of Don Siegel, Peter Yates, Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese and even a little John Cassavates or Gordon Parks. He makes films that have their own not tone, but tenor to them. They aren’t films that deviate from standard narratives all that much, but he allows things to linger on a shot or in an awkward pause with a character. He really makes something magnetic that plays in between the dialogue with these uniquely formed characters with their own subtle idiosyncratic kinks which while can often be offensive but are always believable.
He doesn’t rush and while you can cringe at the running times of his films (the shortest film he has directed clocks in at 132 minutes) there’s something to be said with the fact that as an audience he has a gift to keep us engaged not only visually, but intellectually as well. Every shot has a purpose and the film really does have a great sense of style in telling its story as Zahler and cinematographer Benji Bakshi make sure that it all contributes to the environment of desperation. It’s a movie with an admirable sense of nihilism to it; sure it’s bleak as all hell but you’re fascinated by it all and you really can’t look away from it thanks to some excellent performances.
In what might be his best character work as a part of his recent comeback, Mel Gibson actually shines here as hardened veteran detective Brett Ridgeman. This is a character that at least had the potential to be good, but has been worn down by a life on the streets into someone incapable of trust and compassion that is so necessary while working the city streets as a hardened cop who has seen far too much crime and violence for anyone man to take. His concepts have a certain nobility to them even though his execution is brutal and more than a little behind the times. Vince Vaughn matches him beat for beat as his partner Anthony Lurasetti and they are both men who live by an unwavering yet ultimately flawed code of ethics, which may not be perfect but for them it keeps them alive another day. Both actors brings genuine humanity to these characters who aren’t necessarily the nicest people in the world, but they aren’t wholly unredeemable either and we get behind their flaws.
It’s a fairly loaded ensemble with the likes of Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Laurie Holden, Michael Jai White, Thomas Kretschmann and Udo Kier all taking roles of varying sizes but the other real stand out here is actor Tory Kittles who you may know best from the most recent season of True Detective. As a low-level criminal caught up in something beyond himself he really brings a savvy performance to the table as Henry Johns. Henry isn’t necessarily a good person, but he has a code and wants to do right by those around him even when it takes some wrong turns. He gives the kind of performance here that insures that we’re probably going to see a lot more of him in the years to come as he feels like some who is unquestionably on the rise.
The picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are more than solid and the special features on the disc include some extensive behind the scenes looks at the production of the film.
Ultimately, Dragged Across Concrete is a fascinating throwback of a film. It’s not one that hammers us with action, drama or violence but it makes damn sure that we feel the impact of it all when it decides to gets its hands dirty as it’s a story filled with characters that you don’t necessarily relate or even empathize with…but you do understand them.