If you’re into Dragged Across Concrete solely for the violence implied by its title, you may be disappointed.
S. Craig Zahler’s latest has nothing to match the groin ripping or face stomping of his first two films Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cellblock 99. One bullet-related dissection and a minor disembowelment aside, it’s also lacking in the grace that complimented their show-stopping brutality.
Old-school cop Brett Ridgeman (a dull-eyed, mustachioed Mel Gibson) has spent his career; during which time he’s got perhaps over-comfortable with having his boot on a criminal’s face. After one instance of excessive force – not, we’re led to believe, out of the ordinary – makes its way onto the news cycle, Ridgeman and his partner are suspended without pay.
Ridgeman’s wife, Melanie (Laurie Holden), a former cop herself, has MS and their daughter, Sara (Jordan Ashley Olson), is being menaced by local youths – notably black youths. “You know I’m the most liberal cop there is, but living in this neighbourhood is making me more racist by the day”.
He needs money and, as such, recruits his reluctant partner, the younger, smart-mouthed Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn – with hair, sans his Cellblock bulk) to rip off whatever deal Teutonic out-of-towner Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann) has in the works.
The fictional Bulwark PD immediately recalls Rampart, but while Ridgeman and Lurasetti may be brutal, they’re not corrupt. They’re also unprepared for the consequences of their actions – or inaction – as, over the course of 159 minutes, stakeout leads to holdup, trailing to climactic shootout.
Complicating it further are the stories of ex con Henry Johns (Tory Kittles), with which the film opens, and the fragile Kelly Summer (Jennifer Carpenter), returning to work after childbirth. The gore here isn’t notably more extreme or grisly, but it is, in one instance, notably mean-spirited, or else somewhat throwaway. A gun goes off and another one bites the dust.
The film never “drags”, but – apart a bit of stakeout sandwich-eating that recalls, of all things, Phantom Thread – nor does it ever quite occupy the hallowed golden time of Zahler’s earlier work. Benji Bakshi’s sallow cinematography makes for a generally seedier affair.
- There’s also a scene where Ridgeman’s former partner, now Lieutenant Calvert (Don Johnson), commiserates with him from across the desk over living in a world where “even accusations can end careers nowadays”. Given the actor he’s talking to, it feels like a fuck-you to the Hollywood community at large; though maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, this coming from the guy who wrote the script for Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.
Violence, racism, misogyny – it’s all just retrograde grist for the genre mill. This is solid thriller fare, sure, but hard-boiled character beats, chewy dialogue, and snappy R&B (courtesy of The O’Jays), it’s not quite as smooth as you might hope. Here’s to fewer rough edges with the next one.