Hollywood has always trivialized death, specifically in the police, gangster, and gang genres. Death seems less tragic because it’s “art” after all. In The Godfather, the baptism of Michael Corleone’s son is juxtaposed against a series of mob executions. I’ll never shake the image of blood gushing out of Moe Green’s eye socket during his leisurely massage. It’s all art in the eyes of Coppola.
From S. Craig Zahler comes his latest crime drama, Dragged Across Concrete. In this tale of a robbery gone sadistically wrong, Zahler follows the path of recently released convict Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) and recently suspended New York detectives Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn).
Just out of prison, Henry returns home to find his mother pimping, while his brother, who uses a wheelchair, plays video games in his bedroom. Unable to find legitimate work, Henry’s friend, Biscuit (Michael Jai White) gets him a job as a driver for an upcoming bank heist.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the badge, Brett and Anthony have been suspended from the police force because Brett was just too aggressive with his suspect and it was all caught on a camera phone. Now temporarily a civilian, Brett calls in a favor with a local thug and gets word of a bank heist. Brett convinces Anthony to surveil the heist and at the right moment relieve the robbers of their stolen riches.
“…Brett convinces Anthony to surveil the heist and at the right moment relieve the robbers of their stolen riches.”
The problem with the heist is specifically the crew that hired Henry and Biscuit. Made of three murder-hungry robbers led by its leader Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann) and his two henchmen—the Black Gloved Robber (Primo Allon) and the Grey Gloved Robber. Armed with high-powered semi-automatic rifles, they indiscriminately rob and murder their victims with glee and delight and find just as much joy using the fear of death to motivate their targets.
The first serious problem with Dragged Across Concrete is it’s painfully slow, especially in the first act. I seriously almost left because it just dragged and felt like it was going nowhere. Writer/director Zahler rushes nothing…absolutely nothing. The two-hour and thirty-nine-minute runtime feel like five hours. Our introduction to Mel Gibson’s character opens with him squatted, gun drawn, on a fire escape next to his suspect’s window. Our attention is soon placed on a lit cigarette placed on the railing. Below is a mysterious figure walking up the escape steps and the vibration of his movement causes the cigarette to fall, revealing it’s the Vince Vaughn character.
Both action and dialogue are slow and measured and gets excruciating at times. Clearly intentional on the part of Zahler, especially when we’re treated to a laugh-inducing sequence focused on Vince Vaugh eating a breakfast sandwich in the car. It’s all part of the film’s art, I suppose.
“…if I were ever confronted with the issue of whether violence in cinema is gratuitous, this is the movie…”
Things pick up…slightly, once the action starts. Zahler creates great tension as the robbery and ballet of blood and murder begins. Jennifer Carpenter takes a significant role in a subplot that comes out of nowhere and makes you want to kill yourself when you realize the direction of her character. Zahler lays the pathos on thicker than maple syrup. The way that leader Vogelmann manipulates and murders his victims are mesmerizing, troubling, and dare I say gratuitous at times.
Dragged Across Concrete becomes this dance at the end, as our focus on Gibson and Vaughn trying to steal the goods in a warehouse gunfight shifts to the film’s real star, Tory Kittles. As Henry, all he wants to do is give his mother and brother a better life by being the underestimated criminal tactician. Revealing any more would ruin the mental chess-game he plays with Gibson at the end.
Some would argue that the slow pace of Dragged Across Concrete was intentional (which it was) for the sake of style. But damn it was so slow. This film barely gets a recommendation only because it finally gets interesting at the end. The gory violence is also stylistically crucial to the film as well, but if I were ever confronted with the issue of whether violence in cinema is gratuitous, this is the movie I’d point to as proof we can become desensitized to gun violence and lose several levels of sympathy toward the death of its victims.
Dragged Across Concrete (2019) Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler. Starring Torry Kittles, Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Michael Jai White, Laurie Holden, Thomas Kretschmann, Fred Melamed. Dragged Across Concrete screened at the 2019 Palm Springs International Film Festival.
6 out of 10 stars