DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE
(as spoiler free as possible) Let’s just get it out of the way right now. Yes, Mel Gibson is in Dragged Across Concrete. With that being said, if you don’t like Mel Gibson you won’t be watching Dragged Across Concrete. To which I say, your loss because S. Craig Zahler’s new movie is one of the best movies to be released this year.
Dragged Across Concrete stars the already mentioned Mel Gibson as Brett Ridgeman and Vince Vaughn as Anthony Lurasetti. The two are police officers in the fictional city of Bulwark (take that name for any number of meanings) who are suspended from the Bulwark PD after a video of their aggressive arrest of a suspect goes viral.
Meanwhile, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles, True Detective) is released from prison. He’s greeted by a mother who’s started turning tricks in the apartment she shares with Johns’s younger brother. His younger brother is in wheelchair. Half the movie is the audience wondering how Ridgeman, Lurasetti, Johns, and John’s childhood friend Biscuit are going to collide.
What brings them together is a bank robbery gone bad and then it goes to worse. These characters, minus the bank robbers, aren’t bad people. They’ve been drawn into a situation beyond their control. Ridgeman is a cop whose career has been sidelined by his own recklessness and is looking at a possible forced retirement. The neighborhood his family lives in has seen better days and is getting worse. His plan is to trail a criminal named Vogelmann. Although Ridgeman doesn’t know it at the time, Vogelman’s plan is to rob the Bulwark Bank of millions of dollars in gold bullion.
Lurasetti is dragged into Ridgeman’s scheme out of loyalty and the idea of being able to give his fiance a better life than what he could on his police salary. Even Johns and Biscuit aren’t bad people. Johns gets involved simply to help his brother and his mother. For the most part, these are good people caught up in something beyond their control.
Some critics are quick to point out perceived racism in Dragged Across Concrete. There’s little no overt racism in the movie. Johns and Biscuit say “nigger” just as much as Vogelmann and his group of bank robbers. Most of this criticism is mainly from the baggage any movie with Mel Gibson’s involvement. It wouldn’t be a stretch for these other critics to find racism in a movie like Hacksaw Ridge simply because the movie was directed by Gibson. A lot of that baggage though comes from Mel Gibson’s critics.
These characters are products of their environment and the movie makes sure to hit on timely topics. Lurarsetti calls the news “entertainment” which is code for fake news. Ridgeman and Lurasetti are put on probation, accused of excessive force (code for Police Brutality) based on a video captured by a nearby citizen. Again, these aren’t crooked cops. Did they make a wrong choice? Yes. Did they pay for those bad choices? Yes.
THE NEW NOIR
Dragged Across Concrete is a border line neo-noir film. There’s no femme fatale, a hallmark of the noir movie, to speak of in the movie. But the movie is dark and cloaked in shadows. The dialog feels like Zahler lifted it from an Elmore Leonard or a Donald Westlake Parker novel. At times, lines meant to be humorous fall flat.
The ending is jarring. For almost two hours the viewer has been in the dark world with Ridgeman and Lurasetti. The new life Johns, his brother, and his mother find themselves in is the complete opposite of the world they left. Their new world is bright and white. It’s almost a fairy tale ending in a fairy tale world.
Zahler uses a lot of wide shots in Dragged Across Concrete. Wide shots, of course, reveal more of the scene. The second benefit of using wide shots is that it’s not as inmate as a medium shot or even a close up. We view what’s occurring on screen from a distance.The viewer isn’t involved in what is occurring until Zahler juxtaposes to medium and close up shots. The affect is to bring the viewer into the scene.
PROBLEMS IN A GOOD MOVIE
This is not to say Dragged Across Concrete is the perfect movie. It’s not. There’s plenty of scenes that could have been edited out and the movie would have been just as good if not better. Jennifer Carpenter, who was also in Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99, plays Kelly Summer. Summer is almost a throw away character. She’s a new mother who doesn’t want to leave her new born at home with her husband. As it happens, the bank she works at is the same bank Vogelmann and his crew are robbing. Carpenter is only in the movie for a few minutes until she’s shot.
Some of the scenes are softball lobs. For example, one of Vogelmann’s crew knocks off a convenient store. While he’s robbing the store footage of Ridgeman and Lurasetti’s excessive force video is being played on the news. The robber kills the man behind the counter, a customer, and then proceeds to shoot up the convenient store. We get it. It’s excessive force and it’s not subtle.
Overall, Dragged Across Concrete is a tense movie. You’ll be hooked the moment the opening credits end and the scene opens on Gibson and Vaughn. Set aside whatever you may think of Gibson or Vaughn’s political views for two hours. It’s worth your time.