Dragged Across Concrete (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A gritty and vicious crime thriller

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S. Criag Zahler’s latest work “Dragged Across Concrete” is a gritty and vicious crime thriller film testing our patience and tolerance in many different ways. Mainly revolving around two undeniably racist cop characters, the movie often unnerves us with their viewpoint and behaviors far from political correctness, and it also strikes us hard with several brutal and nasty moments of violence you will not easily forget. This is certainly not something you can casually watch on Sunday afternoon, but I sort of admire how steadily and confidently the movie rolls its story and characters during its rather long running time (159 minutes), and I found myself more entertained than expected during viewing even though I observed its story and characters from distance.

When the movie introduces to us Detective Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and his younger partner Detective Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), they are in the middle of their latest mission, and we see how they eventually arrest their target with no mercy after their patient waiting – and how they cruelly handle their target’s girlfriend just for finding the evidence they are looking for. Shortly after they send away these two arrested figures, Ridgeman and Lurasetti are notified by their supervisor that their harsh arrest process happened to be caught on video, and their supervisor tells them that he has no choice but to have both of them suspended without pay for several weeks for avoiding the criticism from the public and media.

While Lurasetti is not particularly concerned about this problem as hoping to find a right moment for his marriage proposal to his girlfriend, Ridgeman becomes more bitter about the system he has served for many years, and he also comes to worry more about his family’s desperate situation. His adolescent daughter happens to have another unpleasant experience in their neighborhood which is not exactly a good place to live, and his wife, who was also a cop before retiring due to her serious illness, has considered moving to a safer neighborhood, but, unfortunately, they do not have enough money for that.

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And then Ridgeman comes to have a certain idea for solving his family problem once for all. Through a criminal figure for whom he once did some small favor, he obtains a piece of information which may lead him to a considerable amount of cash, and then he attempts to enlist his partner in this criminal plan of his. Although he is understandably reluctant at first, Lurasetti eventually comes to agree to help Ridgeman because, well, he does not want his partner to be left alone in any potential danger.

Of course, as some of you have already guessed, their situation turns out to be far more complicated and perilous than expected, and several other characters come into the picture. There is an ex-con who has just been released from prison but then is drawn into his old criminal world because he really needs to get money for his poor family right now, and then there come a couple of masked figures who are quite ruthless and efficient in their criminal activities, and we also have an emotionally fragile woman who finds it very hard to be away from her newborn baby when she is about to go to her workplace.

As gradually moving his characters toward a certain narrative point later in the story, Zahler, who also wrote the screenplay, deftly maintains the dry but increasingly tense ambience surrounding the characters in his film, and he gives us a series of calm but suspenseful sequences including the one where Ridgeman and Lurasetti patiently follow their target step by step. As shown from his previous films “Bone Tomahawk” (2015) and “Brawl in Cell Block 99” (2017), Zahler can go all the way for extreme violence, and we surely get several grisly moments such as when a certain supporting character gets eviscerated for what he has just swallowed (He dies before that happens, by the way).

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I must point out that it is frequently uncomfortable to watch those blatantly racist moments from Ridgeman and Lurasetti, and you may be also bothered by how callously many of substantial female characters in the film are handled. At least, the movie sticks to its cold, non-judgmental attitude without making any excuse on its two main characters, and it is also supported well by its two terrific lead performers who carry the film well together. Although his acting career has been less prominent than before during recent years, Mel Gibson shows here that, despite all those troubles in his life and career, he has lost none of his acting talent, and he is matched well by the no-nonsense low-key performance from his co-star Vince Vaughn, who previously demonstrated a more serious side of his talent via his electrifying performance in “Brawl in Cell Block 99”.

In addition, Zahler assembles an array of good performers around Gibson and Vaughn. As another crucial part of the movie, Tory Kittles holds his own place well on the whole, and I also enjoyed the fine supporting performances from other cast members including Don Johnson, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, Fred Melamed, and Udo Kier, a wonderful German actor who has always been fun to watch for his uncanny presence.

Overall, “Dragged Across Concrete” is a pretty tough stuff, but I appreciate the efforts and skills put into it, and that is a bit more than enough to compensate for its rather self-indulgent exercise in brutality and nastiness. I do not think I will soon watch it again, but I will not deny that it is a solid genre piece nonetheless, so I recommend it with some reservation.

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