Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 director S. Craig Zahler latest offering is a slow burn thriller with Mel Gibson playing embittered cop Brett Ridgeman who has found himself in a bad situation. Nearing retirement, Ridgeman has failed to climb the police ranks because he doesn’t “politic”. His wife has MS and the neighbourhood they live in is getting rougher, with their daughter being on the receiving end of a gang of local bullies and his pay-cheque isn’t going to see their situation change for the better anytime soon. Especially when he and his partner Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) are suspended for using excessive force on a suspect. The injustice and impossible situation leads him down a path that is dangerous but also criminal. After he receives a tip off about a secret room in an apartment building frequented by an armed robber called Vogelmann (Thomas Kretchmann), Ridgeman recruits his suspended partner on a stakeout to suss out what Vogelmann’s plans are and how they might intercept and hijack him. Not knowing what Vogelman is up to and who he is working with is all hypothetical guesswork for the pair. As they stalk Vogelman’s movements, they find that the job has taken a more violent turn. It brings their moral code and duties of men of the law into question, with how far they are committed in finishing off with what they started?
Gibson is on fine form as Ridgeman as a slightly un-pc old school cop with a quirk at assessing each potential eventuality with percentages. It does make you wonder whether Gibson would have been in the role if it hadn’t gone south with all the controversies he has committed but he does feel perfect for it. As is Vaugn who contrasts to Ridgeman as a more zen like intellectual who uses the words “anchovies” instead of profanities. Arguably Vaughn’s career has taken an upswing since working with Zahler, as being someone more than the lead in ropey comedy films thus further credit to the mysterious working magic Zahler has made possible. Credit also should be giving to Tory Kittles who plays recently released convict Henry Johns, who is involved in the heist but like Ridgeman, is looking to get his family out of a bad situation. He has a slightly more hidden role but is one of the film’s more pivotal characters.
Zahler is somewhat becoming a maverick in the Hollywood sphere. A more controlling executive producer would probably order a good hacking and cutting of this film that comes in at the two and half hour mark, in truth it could probably be cut down to ninety minutes and you could still tell the story. There are long takes to beef up cameo appearances and minor back stories that are fairly irrelevant, Jennifer Carpenter who plays a recent mother and returning bank clerk is a case in point that it seems Zahler is giving her the respect of screen time having been in his previous picture Brawl in Cell Block 99. I won’t leave any spoilers here. But you would have to say making Zahler’s films have more zip would take away what he is about and he has a curious knack for keeping the audience on his side. When Ridgeman watches his partner slowly consume a burger saying a “single red ant could have eaten it faster” suggests Zahler is well aware that him drawing out scenes is him teasing the audience and having some fun with it. Zahler is minimalist in his approach, scenes breathe out with little added in terms of sound score or nifty camera work, ingredients that you might consider that make for a great thriller. The slow burn approach makes for a fairly original take on the genre. Gibson and Vaugn have great chemistry as partners that get under each other’s skin but hold a deep respect that sees them working together even if it might mean to the bitter end. If it wasn’t for the dialogue between them then Dragged Across Concrete could be a pretty hard slog. And in the heat of the battle, there is also some excellent black comedy that blends in with some of the grotesque violence.
Dragged Across Concrete is a film that could easily be deemed, bloated, sluggish and self-indulgent, but instead it’s one of those rare films you appreciate that the creator has been left to his own devices. It’s perfect late night movie watching. It might not ascend Zahler’s career to dizzy heights just yet but he will probably getting noted in the same regard as Michael Mann for the thriller genre sooner than you might expect. Very well worth dragging yourself to seeing at the cinema.