Review: 'Dragged Across Concrete', Mel Gibson And Vince Vaughn Are The Dirtiest Of Cops In S. Craig Zahler's Violent Crime Flick

You don't name your films Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 with plans of sneaking up on people. S. Craig Zahler took no time to establish himself as one of the premiere genre filmmakers, delivering complex, ultra-violent flicks that are as entertaining as they are uncomfortable. His latest, the corrupt cop thriller with the awesome title Dragged Across Concrete, is in the same mold. You won't feel good about anything you're seeing, but it's so damn good you won't be able to turn away, either.

The title Dragged Across Concrete is perfect, too, as the pace moves as conservatively as its two central stars: Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn. I only bring up their politics because their casting seems to be a direct message sent by Zahler, as they play a pair of racist police offers prone to excessive displays of violence. He made similar statements with his prior movies (whites slaughtering Native Americans, a white nationalist using violence to prevent an abortion), and here Zahler is clearly courting some controversy with his unabashedly prejudiced protagonists. They are easy to hate for their biases, but Zahler presents a complex picture of the duo and their circumstances.

The plot, however, is anything but complex. The remarkably straight-forward story follows dirty cops Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), who are caught on tape roughing up a Latino suspect. A longtime veteran of the force who is still walking the same beat as when he started, Ridgeman is a lightning rod for trouble. As his boss (Don Johnson) tells him, being accused of racism today is basically the same as accusations of communism in the '50s, not the last time you'll hear the lament of the poor, aggrieved white man in this film. Ridgeman and Lurasetti are suspended six weeks without pay, and you'll have a hard time feeling sorry for them when the latter offers " I order a dark roast every Martin Luther King Day" as evidence he isn't racist.

Zahler's great at humanizing characters we would usually find objectional, and he sets to work early on doing just that with Ridgeman and Lurasetti. Both men are working class stiffs with little to show for their years of service, and with families to take care of they are in desperate need of money. The only solution is turning to crime, but in a way that puts their police skills to good use. There's a crazy logic to Ridgeman's plan to rob from some of the city's worst drug traffickers, even though it all goes sideways because of course that's what's going to happen. Once blood starts getting spilled, the momentum violence creates just keeps rolling downhill. Eventually they are put in the crosshairs of a gang of gruesome masked killers, as well as a pair of small-time criminals Henry (Tory Kittles) and Biscuit (Michael Jai White).

The thing is, all of these characters are looking for an escape from this life of endless bullshit, and Zahler deliberately walks us through the paces of their hard-knock experiences. At 159-minutes Dragged Across Concrete is no cakewalk; there are long stretches of domestic drama and scenes where Ridgeman and Lurasetti are on stakeouts eating bad food and talking shit. Zahler's dialogue in these scenes is great, though, adding so much personality that they sustain you through the potentially boring stuff.  Vaughn has really hit his stride in the two films he's worked with Zahler, while Gibson is offering a grim look at what the future might be for the Lethal Weapon archetype he helped create.

Of course, this is a Zahler movie and there will be blood. Oh, yes, there will be blood. The violence comes quick, sudden, and after you've been lulled into a false sense of security. But you should know there is no such thing as security in a Zahler movie, nor is anybody safe. Characters we get way too comfortable with get wiped out in a heartbeat, with Zahler taking a dispassionate approach to the bloodshed. While not on the scale of Cell Block 99's brutality, it's more devastating here only because the film is more grounded in reality. There's nothing excessive about it.

Dragged Across Concrete won't be for everyone. Some will be turned off by its political incorrectness, or the pace and lengthy runtime, or the overall nihilistic flavor Zahler has become so expert at creating. He's quite unlike any other director out there. Zahler refuses to coddle his audience and they wouldn't have it any other way.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5