22nd Oct2018

LFF 2018: ‘Dragged Across Concrete’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, Thomas Kretschmann, Laurie Holden, Jordyn Ashley Olson, Don Johnson, Udo Kier, Fred Melamed | Written and Directed by S. Craig Zahler

Dragged-Across-Concrete-poster

Novelist-turned-writer-director S. Craig Zahler goes three for three with Dragged Across Concrete, a terrific, genre-savvy heist thriller, following the success of his two previous features, 2015′s Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cellblock 99 (2017). Gripping, fatalistic and shot through with jet-black humour, it confirms Zahler as a master of genre storytelling.

Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn star as detective Brett Ridgeman (Gibson) and his younger partner Tony Lurasetti. After they’re suspended for their casual racism and excessive force during a routine arrest, both men find themselves in need of quick cash, Ridgeman to help his MS-afflicted wife (Laurie Holden) and bullied teenage daughter (Jordan Ashley Olson) move out of their poverty-stricken neighbourhood and Lurasetti because he wants to propose to his girlfriend (Tattiawna Jones). A solution presents itself when Ridgeman gets wind of an upcoming heist and he ropes Lurasetti into his plan to rip off the robbers.

Meanwhile, ex-con Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) has troubles of his own, when he gets out of prison to find his junkie mother (Vanessa Bell Calloway) turning tricks in the house to support his disabled kid brother (Myles Truitt). He’s soon recruited for the aforementioned heist by his ne’er-do-well buddy Biscuit (Michael Jai White), which puts him on a collision course with the two cops.

With Dragged Across Concrete clocking in at over two and a half hours, Zahler allows the story to unfold at its own, deliberate pace, effectively stretching out all the expected trappings of the heist genre (set-up, stake-out, bank job, fall-out, etc) to epic length. And yet, despite the title, the film never drags, thanks to a perfect fusion of script, performances and direction, each of which ensure that the film grips like a vice throughout.

The dialogue, in particular, is a thing of beauty, the engaging, world-weary banter between Ridgeman and Lurasetti consistently enriched by their various linguistic idiosyncrasies, whether its Ridgeman’s fondness for a statistic or Lurasetti’s unique choice of expletive (“Anchovies!” deserves to catch on). Accordingly, the deliciously pulpy script crackles with great hard-boiled lines, such as Lurasetti lamenting, “This is a bad idea – it’s bad for you and it’s bad for me. It’s bad like lasagna in a can.”

Throughout Dragged Across Concrete, Zahler cleverly plays on genre expectations, to the point where those anticipating the shocking, explicit violence of his previous features may feel disappointed – that’s certainly where the film seems to be leading, but it’s clearly not the film’s primary concern. Instead, it explores a complex morality, layered with provocative observations on racism, economic disparity, politics and political correctness.

The casting of Mel Gibson plays into that perfectly, but this is far from a nudge-nudge, wink-wink spot of stunt casting, even if Zahler can’t resist getting in a few knowing digs at Gibson’s own cellphone-recorded misdemeanours. Instead, Gibson responds with one of his best performances to date, playing Ridgeman (previously an honest, if not entirely PC cop) as a grizzled, downbeat, seen-it-all veteran who, perhaps surprisingly, is still capable of empathy. Vaughn, in turn, is a delight as Lurasetti, generating compelling comic chemistry with Gibson and savouring each laconic line delivery.

There’s also strong support from a number of actors who are rapidly forming Zahler’s own regular ensemble, including Don Johnson (as Ridgeman and Lurasetti’s boss), Fred Malamed (as an overly verbose bank manager), Udo Kier (as a shady underworld contact) and, best of all, Jennifer Carpenter, as a highly strung bank employee who picks the wrong day to come off maternity leave.

Dragged Across Concrete  is further heightened by Benji Bakshi’s atmospheric cinematography and a superb score that, like Brawl in Cell Block 99, includes original soul-funk songs recorded by classic artists such as The O’Jays and Butch Tavares.

In short,Dragged Across Concrete is a sumptuous treat for genre fans thanks to superb performances, a fabulous script and assured, confident direction that ensures the film never quite goes where you expect. On the strength of his first three features, Zahler is quickly carving out a career on a par with Tarantino’s and it will be fascinating to see what he does next.

***** 5/5

Dragged Across Concrete screened at this years London Film Festival on Tues 16th and Thurs 18th October 2018.

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