As indie directors go, S. Craig Zahler is one of the more intriguing ones working today. His first two films–Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99–both took the film world by storm, first due to them both being released exclusively online, and second because they are both unlike most other films the average person would stumble across. With his new film, Dragged Across Concrete, Zahler intends to keep this trend going. This film also marks one of the first times audiences have seen Mel Gibson as a leading man in some time (no, I don’t count Daddy’s Home 2).
Gibson and Vince Vaughn play two cops who are caught using excessive force during a drug bust by a bystander who records the incident and posts it online. This incident results in their temporary suspension from the police force because the victim was a mixed-race man. After getting suspended without pay, the two officers decide to take on a suspected drug dealer in order to be rightfully compensated for their hard work. Meanwhile, a fresh-out-of-jail black man (Tory Kittles) is struggling to find work to provide for his family, so he resorts to helping his friend with illegal activities.
Dragged Across Concrete is what people in the film world like to call a “slow burn” movie, which is a film that takes its time to get the point across, but still hits all the right notes along the way. If it didn’t at least partially succeed, it wouldn’t be called a slow burn–it would be called boring. Zahler lets the audience know from the very first scene that he won’t shy away from the details and that the film is a gradual build towards the climax. For the first half of the film it is easy to get confused as to why the pacing drags on so much, but once the blood starts spraying the reason is clear: tension.
The sluggish pacing makes the gut feeling that something will go terribly wrong remain for scene after scene of action. The chase scenes in Dragged Across Concrete aren’t fast Bourne-style suspense-fests, but excruciating and tense stand-offs that have the audience shifting in their seat. For this reason, Zahler crafts a more-than-competent crime thriller that treats its audience with respect. As the film goes on, the events become more insane and violent, but the atmosphere never changes from the grounded sense of style that he carries throughout.
While the pacing is Zahler’s greatest ally during this film, it also ends up being his downfall, for he over-utilizes it. Dragged Across Concrete runs at 2 hours and 39 minutes, and while the pacing did need to be slow for the atmosphere to deliver, it seems that he put too much effort into the sluggish pace. Entire sequences and set pieces are included here that do not add to the final product, which can grate on the audience’s patience. Don Johnson and Jennifer Carpenter are both in this film, and while I like both of them as actors, their roles are unnecessarily drawn out.
Don Johnson’s only scene in the film features some very passionate political opinions that come very much out of left field. It isn’t that I disagree with these opinions, for that is irrelevant in judging a film for its quality, but this scene feels like it belongs in a different project. It’s almost as if the director paused the film, walked on screen, and decided to physically explain his political opinions to the viewer. I do understand why it is included, but it isn’t brought up again and it doesn’t fit the gritty and unbiased tone that the film excels at. Other sections of the film include some offhanded political remarks, but these seem to be more character-building as opposed to talking directly at the viewers.
There are quite a few scenes scattered throughout that don’t feel as if though Zahler needed to keep them in the film, and every issue I have with it stems from that. One scene in particular with Jennifer Carpenter brings the steady pace of suspense to a screeching halt, and ends up being entirely pointless to the plot. I understand that Zahler wanted to meticulously set-up each of his characters, but this particular one could have been excluded and I would have been none the wiser.
The movie plagues itself down with these scenes primarily in the first half, but the second half is where Zahler hits his stride. The audience finally sees why all of the drawn-out character development is included, and the film has moral ambiguities that were missing (for the most part) from the first half. This also gives Gibson, Vaughn and newcomer Tory Kittles many chances to shine. While the ending left me somewhat lukewarm, the film still makes its impact within the last hour, and proves Zahler as one of the most unique directors out there. Even though this may not be the best film out there it still exemplifies his unlimited potential, for as he has proved with his previous films, he can slip into any genre and any style of filmmaking.
Dragged Across Concrete will not be on the top of any of my lists, but it is intriguing enough to make me seek out S. Craig Zahler’s next film. The “slow burn” tactic of filmmaking is an especially hard one for many directors to pull off, and I commend Zahler for succeeding, though moderately, with this film. I also appreciate Zahler’s tactic of immediately releasing his films on the internet, for it gives people like me instant exposure to his art without hassle. Mel Gibson fans should rejoice, for it seems that his acting career is making a long overdue comeback. Many aspects of this film will be controversial, but the fact that Zahler took those risks in the first place is why he is such an up-and-coming voice in the indie world, and why Dragged Across Concrete is worth a watch.
I give Dragged Across Concrete a B-.