Review by Jay Bowman
Dragged Across Concrete manages to go against the stereotypes of genre by being a slowly paced crime thriller. That may not sound like much, but it’s quite a feat considering it’s around two-and-half hours long and manages to hold the audience captive, not through non-stop gunplay and explosions, but by throwing out plot threads in every direction and leaving you guessing which ones converge and when.
Brett Ridgemann (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) are two city cops who get busted using excessive force thanks to the wonders of modern cellphones. When they’re suspended for six weeks the partners are forced to face the difficulties of their personal lives and how the job (and now absence of the job) have exasperated them. Ridgemann, the bitter veteran, wants to leave the decaying neighborhood his salary has forced him, his disabled wife, and bullied daughter to live in. Lurasetti, on the other hand, has been planning on proposing to his girlfriend but struggles to come to terms with what little his job has to offer both of them.
It’s here where the movie makes it’s first sudden turn. As the two leads are being handed their suspension, there’s some talk of how the media distorts police violence and good men get smeared for a single mistake despite the good they do. Ridgemann at one point relents the changing times, framing his suspension as a punishment for not being “polite enough” during the bust. Gibson plays this so well that I honestly thought it was going to turn into some sort of 70s vigilante film with the officers going against the book to prove themselves and regain their hero status. Instead, it gets dark.
Ridgemann decides the best way to solve his family’s problems is to steal from criminals, going so far as to convince Lurasetti to join him in the seemingly simple plan. From here the film spirals out of control as the duo’s plot becomes incredibly complicated and more lives become entangled in their decision to go against the rules.
There are elements of classic noir here. Gibson’s performance stands out in particular, getting across Ridgemann’s restlessness, desperation, paranoia, and even selfishness without so much as raising his voice. Not quite mumble-core, not quite sleepy, the man is simply defeated. And, as the name implies, everything in the film just looks and feels rough, from cars to apartments to the clean-cut bank. The air of menace never lets up, snowballing into the final dizzying act.
It is, however, a large span of time to cover, and it can’t all be brooding and police brutality (that would make it one of the 70s films I was talking about). Director/writer S. Craig Zahler introduces more characters in seemingly disconnected scenes throughout, focusing on complicated character relationships and the requisite mystery of who the criminals are. It was overwhelming for me at first trying to keep track of it all, but once the climax hits there’s no misdirection or sudden swerves. The story is ultimately straightforward, though how it’s presented isn’t. This structure plays a big role in adding to the tension.
Dragged Across Concrete’s execution makes it both a slow-burn character piece and a whirlwind of activity all at once, something I’d say is certainly a rare treat considering the genre. If you’re willing to make time for it, Dragged Across Concrete just might make you rethink what makes a compelling crime drama.