Depiction does not equal endorsement. Being problematic does not disqualify a movie from being great. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s dive into writer-director S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete, a sprawling crooked cop movie with plenty of problematic elements. Zahler has emerged in recent years as the modern king of exploitation filmmaking with his cult hits Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. Though those films had the kind of exploitation spirit that revels in extreme violence, they were films that were overlong and often quite boring. I was still willing to give Zahler another chance with Dragged Across Concrete because I want quality exploitation films out there, ones that are unafraid to be problematic while delivering the basest thrills of ghastly gore and unlikable characters chewing on scenery. For me, Dragged Across Concrete is strike three with S. Craig Zahler. The film is neither problematic enough to be interesting nor does its story contain enough thrills to warrant its ridiculous running time of nearly three hours.
Detectives Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) are two hard-nosed cops, often using strong-arm tactics to get their arrest. After video of them employing those strong-arm tactics appears on the news, they’re suspended from the force – however, they’re quite lucky that there was no video of what occurs after the fact when Ridgeman shoves a half-naked woman into the shower, dousing her with cold water before placing her under a fan on so the two cops can interrogate this soaking wet topless woman. The suspension leaves Ridgeman and Lurasetti in a tough position financially. Ridgeman and his wife, who is suffering from multiple sclerosis, want to move away from their neighborhood after their daughter is continually bullied by black teens. Lurasetti needs money to afford a posh engagement ring for his girlfriend. With no other recourse, Ridgeman seeks out a job that will keep him and his partner with plenty of financial support for themselves and their loved ones.
Elsewhere, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) has just been released from prison and he, too, is facing money woes. He teams with his old friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White) who has arranged for them to work on a bold heist led by Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann). It’s by hijacking this heist that the two suspended cops hope to pad their bank accounts, but this is a brutal world is full of ruthless souls who will stop at nothing to keep their stolen loot.
For all the crime and violence that looms over everything in Dragged Across Concrete, it’s truly remarkable just how boring the movie is. Zahler has no feel for pacing in this crime drama, and that leads the film to a number of lengthy tangents that lead nowhere and just pad an already bloated running time. A lot of the film is dedicated to Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn sitting in a car on a stakeout complete with scenes of eating and inane chatter. Just whenever you think that Dragged Across Concrete is about to pick up the pace and live up to the violence inherent to its title, Zahler seemingly always takes the film on another ridiculously unnecessary tangent. The film’s cardinal sin – it’s very boring.
There are racial elements to Dragged Across Concrete that are problematic, but Zahler’s film employs so many lazy stereotypes that it’s hard to even muster any outrage. There is a bit of unintentional comedy in Ridgeman’s wife lamenting her growing racist tendencies because of the no-good black kids in the neighborhood, going as far to remark that she’s “as liberal as an ex-cop could be.” Just exactly how liberal could that possibly be? There’s no depth or wit to any of the film’s racial elements; they’re just a superfluous layer added to be provocative, like the film aspires to be edgelord cinema for the extremely online guys.
The women of Dragged Across Concrete fare no better than the film’s racial minorities. Whereas the film uses racial stereotypes as a provocation, it opts to show a blatant disregard for its female characters who are either homebody wives and girlfriends or the victims of brutal violence. One particularly ridiculous subplot gives the audience a lengthy glimpse into one woman’s house life, the fights with her husband and returning to work after just giving birth. It’s incredible how much time this movie spends on this character only to gruesomely have her face blown off in the very next scene. Not only is it emblematic of the film’s lazy misogyny but also of Zahler’s complete disinterest in telling a compelling, coherent story.
I wish Dragged Across Concrete was as daring and edgy as it thinks itself to be. Instead it’s a glacially paced crime drama with problematic elements that never coheres into a captivating story. It’s all these half-baked loose ends stretched beyond reason in a movie with an egregiously excessive running time. S. Craig Zahler may think he’s creating a provocative crime drama that dabbles in taboos of racism and misogyny with exploitative glee, but that’d be at least interesting to behold. There’s nothing that interesting in Dragged Across Concrete, nor is anyone actually dragged across concrete. Dragged Across Concrete does carry on one long-standing tradition of exploitation cinema – it’s got a lot more filler than thriller.
Dragged Across Concrete
A grotesque, overlong would-be provocation, writer-director S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete has plenty of problematic elements but not enough to be the least bit interesting in this glacially paced attempt at exploitation filmmaking.