Director S. Craig Zahler has become one of the must-see talents to watch amongst the newest crop of filmmakers. In 2015 he wrote and directed his first feature, the brutal western Bone Tomahawk which was thoroughly entertaining, gritty and extremely violent. He followed that up two years later with Brawl in Cell Block 99 which, believe it or not, upped the violence factor even more, but still was very enjoyable and gripping.
His latest feature still has his bloody finger prints all over it as well as what is becoming his go-to stable of actors such as Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, and Don Johnson. Zahler’s movies are like a four course meal and by the end of it you are satisfied and full even though it might have taken a long time to get through.
Dragged Across Concrete is a contemporary tale that starts with the first of our main characters, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) who has just been released from prison and taken home by his friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White). The conversation is centered on Biscuit letting Henry know that when he is ready to come back to do another job he has things appropriately lined up. Henry goes into his mother’s apartment to find her ‘entertaining’ a man but doing so while his younger brother, who is confined to a wheelchair, is in his room. His mother explains that she has run out of money and has resorted to hooking to make ends meet, as well as feeding her drug habit. Henry realizes at this point that he needs to figure things out fast so he can change the current rocky landscape his family finds themselves in.
We cut to the next character, Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson), an old timer detective we meet waiting on a balcony for a bust that he and his younger partner Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) are involved in. During the bust Brett uses some excessive force that is caught on a cellphone camera by a neighbor. The neighbor alerts the media and now both Brett and his partner are in hot water with Lieutenant Calvert (Don Johnson), who happens to be Brett’s old partner. Calvert lets the duo know that they will be suspended without pay, much to both men’s displeasure.
Brett has an ex-cop wife at home who is succumbing to multiple sclerosis and a teenage daughter that gets assaulted multiple times on her way home due to them living in a bad neighborhood. Brett’s wife Melanie offers to go back to work as a security guard to help them get out of their current situation, but Brett, a proud man, will have none of that. He tells his wife he will figure something out.
On the other side, Anthony has a girlfriend that he wants to propose to but is a little unsure of her answer. He’s on the cusp of picking up a specially made engagement ring when his suspension kicks in, making him that much more hesitant to pull the trigger.
In yet another side story, a mysterious criminal Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann) prepares to carry out a job which we later find out is a bank heist with two other masked men we are introduced to in a rather unforgettable way.
Brett, feeling slighted for not moving up the ranks his whole career because he gets results but doesn’t play the political game that leads to success, decides to cash in a favor from a well-off connected man Friedrich (Udo Kier – another Zahler regular). Apparently Brett looked the other way regarding some trouble Friedrich’s son got into so he wants Friedrich to return the favor by tipping him off on some type of crime that will garner him access to a large sum of money.
Brett calls Anthony to tell him to meet him outside his place early in the morning and together they drive to a stake out point where Brett explains his desperate plan to get out of his situation. He invites Anthony in to be a partner on this scheme if he wants in, to which Anthony is reticent. Brett explains that at his age and with no future prospects of moving up the chain, coupled with his wife’s current condition, and his daughter’s chances of a worse assault looming, that this is his last shot. He’s done good work all his career, even if he hasn’t always played by the rules and he feels entitled to rip off another criminal for some cash.
Anthony sticks around with one foot in to see if this will be something he will pursue with his partner. Brett explains that he received a solid tip that something is going down soon hence the stakeout. This is when our three stories merge, as the stakeout mark happens to be Vogelmann as well as Henry and Biscuit. Both Brett and Anthony tail the three men to an underground parking lot where they emerge in a customized security van with the three in disguise as well as the other two masked men introduced earlier. As they follow them it leads them to a downtown bank that they are going to rob.
Just before this we are introduced to yet another character Kelly Summer (Jennifer Carpenter), who is three months from giving birth to a baby boy but is suffering from separation anxiety. After a little deal between her husband she eventually commutes to work which happens to be the very same bank that is going to be held up by Vogelmann and company.
If you’re still with me, from here we move to a very strong third act that I won’t spoil but is filled with signature Zahler violence and drama.
Gibson and Vaughn are very serviceable in their respective roles and their chemistry works for the most part as they banter back and forth, being partners from differing schools of old and new. The real highlight is Tony Kittles, who plays Henry with a fox-like cunning. We can see that he is resourceful, observant, smart, and a survivor, almost to a point it is hard to believe he was caught for the crime that he just left jail for.
Zahler’s dialogue at times can feel forced but his characters still manage to feel grounded in reality. He directs his latest film with a slow burn and resultant satisfying cap to the story that makes the 159 minute run time feel more lean than the first act alludes to, Zahler expertly tying it all together with hardly any fat on the bone.
The wonderful soundtrack is filled with ‘70s inspired tracks from The O’Jays and even Zahler himself, this particular decade seemingly inspiring the feel of the film in ways that go beyond the acoustics.
Overall this would probably be my least favorite of his three films but that’s only due to the lofty heights reached by Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cellblock 99. I can easily see Zahler’s films gaining more and more cult status as he builds on his career and I’ll certainly be there every step of the way eagerly awaiting his next bone-crunching offering.
Film ’89 Verdict – 8/10