Dragged Across Concrete


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Dragged Across Concrete: 'Zahler’s dialogue can be maddeningly mannered, but he has a really good eye for action set-pieces, and there are some magnificent examples here'
"Long, slow and at times painful." | Photo: Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

Dragged Across Concrete is always successful at conjuring a mood. Sometimes it's less Raymond Chandler laconicity than Friends' Chandler loquaciousness, where flashes of erudition and occasionally anachronistic glibness are packed as tightly and oleaginously as anchovies, nearly humorous like a broken arm, and sometimes it's a painful grinding, washed-out on the wrong side of irony, something that feels not only old-fashioned but old, as old as you might feel after its 159 minutes have elapsed.

For less than an hour more you could watch Mamet's Heist and Taraji P Henson in Proud Mary and you might have an easier time of it. You'd get multi-threaded plots and a complicated robbery and uneasy business with violence and a parcel of actors you'll recognise and one of them from the Lethal Weapon franchise and, as far as I can remember, no line that is as uneasy as, "I'm not a racist, every Martin Luther King Day I order a cup of dark roast", and, though it's a small part, Fred Melamed is no Ricky Jay - let's just say he's not as magic.

Written, directed, sound-tracked by S Craig Zahler, reunited with his troupe of actors from Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99, another visit to genre cinema with an angle, cops in trouble finding more. There's an unsettling detour through a discussion of perceptions of racism with Don Johnson and Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn. There's a set of moments that might be empty cup acting, that coffee cup moment where the sound of sipping may not be Folger's but foley, a stake-out that's a misery of misophonia, and there are other things that grab.

There is a neo-noirish cast to all this, as if it's been nineteen-thirty-something for eighty-odd years, nineteen-eighty-forty with a grizzled cop with a stagnant career and his younger partner and a cellphone video that earns them stares from steps on stairs and then suspension. Playing the percentages there are moments and moments of dialogue that illustrate character, others whose clumsiness exposes as much as it exposits - "as a mother and a former cop" is a howler even if it wasn't between a husband and wife, and watching an actor use the butt of a revolver to beat a cellphone to death reminded me most of that bit in Rio I Love You where Vincent Cassel beats up a sandcastle.

There is a datelessness, a statelessness, and, at times, a weightlessness. There is a general air of anachronism, in one (of many) robberies there is an instruction to "show me your pocket whites". It is set in and around a city called Bulwark, presumably with a historic connection to the one near Chepstow, a place with good bits and bad bits, an Interstate and a financial district, buildings repeatedly described as 'tan stucco,' a place that isn't real and features invisible places too. It also doesn't feel like it matters.

It's not a spoiler to say that there are video credits, that there are fictional video-games, that there are places where detail seems apt and apposite and layered, like sheet metal concealed beneath a bonnet, and places where it seems off, like unpowered console controllers. It's a Gibson role where he's warned that if he's not careful with the amount of cast iron he's throwing around he'll end up 'a human steamroller covered in spikes,' but for all he's apparently made maximum effort towards redemption this doesn't feel it. I'm uneasy enough with the abandon with which Tarantino peppers his scripts with some words and possibly more so with the way that there's a discussion about how illiberal the media are when it comes to accusing people of racism, how they won't tolerate intolerance, and how it's worse when there are recordings, and then Vince Vaughn tells someone that "anyone who's from New York can call [him] Tony".

Tory Kittles is Henry Johns, almost the first face we see in the film, and (mild spoilers) almost the last, another one with whom Zahler has worked before as he's in Olympus Has Fallen, almost out of prison and almost out of luck. He's hooked up by pal Biscuit (Michael Jai White, who's having a heck of a run just now) and their paths, eventually, intersect with Bulwark's finest.

There are others - two nigh on indistinguishable black-clad men of violence. Jennifer Carpenter (another of Zahler's troupe) appears in a role that might be argued to be a condemnation of capitalism and how it cheapens even motherhood and does serve to give this film its Bechdel pass (it's about cupcakes) and whose denouement is one of the reasons why this film is a 15 when the language (though florid at times and turgid at others) is timid enough to probably not need it.

Not needing it is really the end verdict too. There are better, shorter films that do most everything that this film does, and you would be better to watch them. This is a B-movie with an art-house runtime, a cast where a framed front page can use 40-year-old headshots of folk who were famous then too, and it may well be that Zahler fans who look forward to hearing his dialogue delivered by these faces, his songs(!) delivered by the O'Jays, his vision of violence filmed fell-handedly again will be well sated, but for reasons I can just about put my finger on I was never grabbed. Some titles are apt for the wrong reasons - long, slow and at times painful, Dragged Across Concrete is, I think, meant to be about the vicissitudes of policing, the way the beat beats down, but even with its gumshoe argot and boot-leathery faces it doesn't escape being pedestrian.

Reviewed on: 24 Feb 2019
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A pair of cops suspended for strong-arm tactics descend into the criminal underworld.
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Director: S Craig Zahler

Writer: S Craig Zahler

Starring: Mel Gibson, Jennifer Carpenter, Vince Vaughn, Laurie Holden, Don Johnson, Michael Jai White, Thomas Kretschmann, Udo Kier, Tory Kittles, Andrew Dunbar, Fred Melamed, Giacomo Baessato, Myles Truitt, Trezzo Mahoro, Adam Tsekhman

Year: 2018

Runtime: 159 minutes

Country: Canada

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