Saturday 14 September 2019

Dragged Across Concrete ★★★★★

Over the last few years, filmmaker S. Craig Zahler has proven himself to be one of the shining lights of modern cinema. With just Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, he has defied expectations with richly plotted and viscerally violent drama and given actors like Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Vince Vaughn and Don Johnson their finest roles in years. He is absolutely one of the key filmmakers to watch at the moment, so his latest film is definitely worth discussing. Don’t let the casting fool you – yeah, that’s Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn as a pair of police officers – this is one of the finest films of the year.

At 159 minutes, it’s certainly a pretty meaty film. We follow the escapades of two cops - one an old-timer (Gibson), the other his volatile younger partner (Vaughn), who find themselves suspended when a video of their strong-arm tactics become the media's cause du jour. Low on cash and with no other options, these two embittered soldiers descend into the criminal underworld to gain their just due but instead find far more than they wanted awaiting them in the shadows. With a title like Dragged Across Concrete and a filmmaker like Zahler behind the lens, you know that this is going to be a grim ride. But while it does certainly pack some pretty violent punches, this is a slow-burning character study more than anything.

Our two leads – Brett (Gibson) and Anthony (Vaughn) are complex, layered characters. While their ultraviolent behaviour is not glamorised, it is also not particularly condemned. This film, if nothing else, is a stark observation of modern America and corruption in the police force. The film does not make any real attempt to explain or comprehend this sort of behaviour, but rather take a look at the sort of people who engage in it. We are dropped right in with these vulgar characters and over the two and a half hour runtime, we don’t gain any respect for them whatsoever. But we do gain something of an understanding, thanks to two stellar performances and an incredible screenplay from director Zahler. 

This is a pitch-black drama with absolutely no light, joy or anything resembling happiness or fulfilment in the characters. We are in a dark, twisted world – but isn’t that the world we live in? This shadow-soaked film is very much a modern-day noir with dishonest, violent characters galore and absolutely no redeeming characters that you feel any sort of connection to. And yet, you cannot look away. This is one of the most engrossing and hypnotic films I’ve seen in a long time, and yet also one of the most depressing, harrowing and vile.

Dragged Across Concrete is, therefore, a difficult film to review. Some people will watch it and be disgusted, shocked and appalled. They will be sickened that I have this much positive stuff to say about it. But I stand by it. I do not for one-second stand by the characters’ actions, motives or behaviour – but the performances, writing and directing here is absolutely first-rate. S. Craig Zahler continues to prove himself as one of the finest filmmakers working today and I for one cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.

Sam Love

Dragged Across Concrete at CeX

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