DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE, US, 2019. Starring Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tori Kittles, Michael Jai White, Thomas Kretschmann, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Don Johnson, Udo Keir, Fred Melamed. Directed by S.Craig Zahler. 159 minutes. Rated R (High impact violence).
This is a very strong police drama. It has received strong critical support but damning blogs from several hundred trolls on the IMDb. This review is in support of the critics.
This is also quite a long film, taking its time in introducing characters, building up situations, inviting the audience to be patient observing, sharing a long wait in a stakeout, quite a number of stakeouts in fact, spending a lot of time in getting to know characters (and wondering where they will fit into the overall scheme), sitting in cars with the central two police officers, watching, waiting, following at a distance – and then, a grim, sometimes gruesome, climax to the whole film. Although, there is a moment’s cheerfulness just before the final credits.
It is hoped that the previous paragraph gives some indication as to whether the film is one that would be sought out or avoided. While no character is dragged across concrete, this gives a tone to the film – ‘knife held cutting through intestines to find a swallowed key’ might be too grim a title but it would be more accurate!
The writer-director, novelist, band member, writer of songs and musical scores, S.Craig Zahler, is a cult director for some enthusiasts. His two previous films were strong and striking, each with visceral titles, Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell 99.
The central focus of the action is on the two policeman, very old school, tough, staking out an apartment, brutal treatment of a suspect (filmed on video with the reports sent to TV networks to expose police violence). They are played by a very serious Mel Gibson, supported by Vince Vaughn. They are suspended, both needing financial support, especially Gibson’s Ridgeman whose wife is a former police officer but incapacitated, living in a very rough neighbourhood where his teenage daughter is routinely attacked. Vaughn’s Tony, on the other hand, is investing in a diamond engagement ring.
We have first been introduced to Henry (Tori Kittles) getting out of prison, confronting his mother who was living by prostitution supporting his younger disabled brother. But, Henry keeps his criminal contacts and goes into action. Ridgeman also wants to go into action, makes contact with a secretive criminal boss and stakes out a suspect, thinking that it was drug dealing but, in fact, as we see, it is an elaborate bank robbery, taking gold, but leaving dead behind.
The aftermath of the robbery, the pursuit of the getaway car, the long drive along the highway to a rendezvous, all bring the characters together for a final confrontation which is not all as might have been expected (except for the vicious and violent confrontations).
The cinematography is dark along with the themes. Performances are strong, the action dramatic even as it slows in pace. One of the most interesting features of the screenplay is that it is practically four-letter-word-free, the writer taking the trouble to actually write dialogue, dialogue which includes some rather upmarket vocabulary choices (assuage, endeavour, metaphysical…), A reminder that intelligent dialogue is preferable to lazy swear-substitute writing.
So, not for everyone, but certainly for those interested in genre, especially police genre, portraits and action.
Icon Released August 29th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.