Dragged Across Concrete review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
At a slow burn of 2½ hours, I was expecting Dragged Across Concrete to either be one of two action pictures. Either it’d be bogged down in too many twisty subplots thrown at the screen or it would linger like the longest of Nicolas Refn productions. I was pleasantly surprised that S. Craig Zahler makes sure that his slow burn of an action picture burns bright.
We’re introduced to some troubled and unsavory characters. Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) are classic dirty cops, aged figures of an era long gone. They work the streets trying to tackle the tough cases with as much grit as they can muster. They break into the house of a drug dealer and arrest him with exceptional roughness. They then enter into his bathroom to discover a Latina woman showering, insulting her dryly that they don’t speak Spanish when she speaks perfect English and refuses to grab her a towel. Later, they go to a diner and are mildly angered by pop music being piped into the speaks, unable to determine if the singer is a man or a woman.
A problem arises. The two cops are given leave for their actions. Hard for money, they decide to find a heist that will go down, track the criminals, and take the loot. Their mission collides with others. The robbery is being pulled off by friends Henry (Tory Kittles) and Biscuit (Michael Jai White). They work alongside some masked associates for a bank job that will not end well for either the hostages or the robbers. One of those hostages is Kelly (Jennifer Carpenter), a struggling woman just trying to work to see her baby. Not much works out for any of them in this gritty picture of immense violence and cruelty.
Zahler directs this picture in a somewhat unorthodox manner, taking a fairly familiar story of countless direct-to-video action movies and giving it thoughtful pacing. He lingers on scenes of the uncomfortable to make us extra put off by the horrors of trying to survive under a capitalist system. Where this seems most blunt is in Kelly’s tearful plea to not go to work, wanting to be more with her baby than suffer through a desk job. It’s a scene both maddening and emotional, being very much on the nose. Kelly’s return to the office is treated with a similar sense of David Lynch-like conversations that feel both mundane and exaggerated. It’s this drawn-out nature that makes the exceptionally gory violence pack an extra punch and surprise.
I really do appreciate that Zahler draws the film out to such a long length, letting the audience appreciate the crafting of the scenes. Gibson and Vaughn play characters that could easily be turned into cartoonish villains that babble on in all manner of PC culture ruining the world and criminals being worse than they are in their actions. Indeed, we do get some antagonist dialogue but only in short bursts as an uncomfortable silence falls on the picture. We’re meant to identify most with Henry as the underdog just trying to the right thing, even though he goes about it with all the wrong actions. He’s deeply flawed but in a world of other flawed and tragic characters, it’s easy to like him most, even if he only melds firmer into the sloppy system that required heists to survive in the first place.
I was on the fence about Dragged Across Concrete for a film that falters between either being a vicious exploitation picture or an elongated and artful neo-noir. Perhaps it’s both. What I can say for certain is that the picture held my attention greatly as someone who has become easily burnt out on the heist genre. This is that extra shot of vigor to showcase that films about men robbing banks can still have some flair and grit.