Movie review: ‘Dragged Across Concrete’

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“Dragged Across Concrete” follows two cops, Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn). After an act of public assault costs them six weeks of suspension without pay, the two men delve into the criminal underworld, hoping to find fortune. The duo’s exploits pit them against a group of criminals, brimful of savagery and disconnect. Like most crime films, each decision comes with a price. 

Misguided figures of masculinity are staples of crime fiction, and here, writer/director S. Craig Zahler creates a bevy of male combatants. The three primary characters, while immensely flawed, are relatable. Every character has something to lose, and as a result, the stakes are extremely clear. Ridgeman is a veteran cop, looking down the barrel of financial ruin and occupational stagnancy.  Gibson’s rugged nature makes the role horrifically realistic. Ridgeman’s humanity is evident during scenes of domestic conversation, and as viewers, we see how fragile his life is. Vaughn’s performance isn’t as hefty, but it’s still exceptional. Unlike “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” Vaughn is playing a secondary character. The role is extremely dramatic, but Vaughn’s subtle humor is intact. Deep down, Lurasetti is an anxious lover, hoping to marry the love of his life. 

Tory Kittles plays Henry Johns, a recently released ex-con, determined to leave the confines of urban decay. Kittles’ character is rough, but very warm. Yes, Johns is involved in the criminal underworld, but we get the sense that he has a moral code, full of compassion and understanding. At one point, the character talks about a tragic death, hinting at his regretful existence. In another scene, Johns talks to his mother about a young family member. Here, we have a criminal smart enough to realize that the crime world can negatively impact a young boy, filled with potential and innocence. 

The story slowly develops each party. On one hand, we see Ridgeman‘s and Lurasetti’s ongoing decent into the criminal underworld. On the other hand, we see Johns’ criminal exploits. Yes, each character is living an unethical existence, but at the same time, their trials and tribulations are understandable. Zahler’s tedious approach creates a tense cinematic experience, hinting at the fact that the two parties are on a collision course. These damaged figures will inevitably collide, and as a result, souls will be lost. The inevitable conflict is enhanced by Zahler’s utilization of dehumanization. Zahler creates a despicable cinematic villain, representing the worst of society. The criminal mastermind, Lorentz Vogelman, is a devil amongst demons. Constantly, he wears a black mask, wields weaponry, and shoots anyone that gets in his way. 

The film, clocking in at 150 minutes, will deter certain viewers, but for others, the epic running time will work wonders. Zahler wants us to feel the characters’ urgency. Like real life anxiety, Zahler constructs many slow burn scenarios, full of dread and impatience. Often times, Zahler focuses on Ridgeman‘s and Lurasetti’s stakeout. In many films, stakeouts are fast tracked to progress forms of cinematic entertainment. In this case, Zahler wants to plunge us into the uncomfortably real scenario. As a result, it feels like we are a part of the stakeout. Like Ridgeman and Lurasetti, we are eagerly watching from afar, hoping to catch a break. 

As the narrative progresses, the tension enhances. Due to Zahler’s patient methodology, it feels like we are at risk. Zahler wisely sprinkles hardcore acts of violence throughout the story, giving the narrative a large sense of dread. The shocking acts of violence, combined with the slowly paced storytelling, creates an unbearably intriguing experience. In one particular scene, Zahler focuses on two assailents. We get the feeling that each man wants to inflict violence on the other. Zahler expands the scene, stretching our forms of anxiety to the limit. Each move means something. Each cut gets us closer to conflict. Each passing second gets us closer to bloodshed. Eventually, something is going to happen. 

The final confrontation is stretched out to great lengths, but it’s undeniably effective. Credit has to be given to Benji Bakshi, the director of photography. The low light photography is absolutely stunning. Bakshi’s cinematography makes the two parties feel isolated. The yellow visuals create an urban battleground, full of shadows and sudden movements. As the conflict progresses, the surrounding darkness creates a feeling of uneasiness. Every second, it feels like something is lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike. Constantly, we are waiting for something bad to happen, because dangerous forces are everywhere. And within each individual, there is dangerous potential. 

As a whole, “Dragged Across Concrete” is a harrowing tale that deals with the human condition. Like other figures of crime fiction, Zahler’s characters are defined by miscalculated decisions. They make risky decisions with the intent of improving their familial situations. Their mistakes snowball, and eventually, people get hurt. It is a reminder that human beings tend to progress their situations through brute force, instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes. With this method, human beings get tunnel vision, and fail to think about the repercussions of their actions. 

I highly recommend “Dragged Across Concrete.” Zahler goes too far in places, stretching the film to unnecessary proportions. But overall, the film is an exceptional piece of crime fiction. Zahler has proven himself to be one of the finest filmmakers working today. The future looks bright, and I cannot wait to see what Zahler has up his sleeve. 

My Grade:  A

Note: This film is currently available on VOD. On April 30th, it will be released on home video. 

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