Dragged Across Concrete (2018) Directed by S. Craig Zahler. Starring Troy Kittle, Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn.
Harnessing the strengths of his decidedly uncommercial (almost novelistic) narrative style but also suffering from the pacing and framing weaknesses which make it tricky to fully engage with his work, Dragged Across Concrete evidences the best and worst of S. Craig Zahler’s cinematic eye for detail.
The pulpy narrative of bent cops and moral robbers embroiled in a gold bullion heist is given depth and complexity by some incredibly stylised, verbose, neo-noir dialogue layered with trademark moral murkiness. Good people do bad things for completely understandable reasons, they overreact to low level problems and their decision making suffers as a result. It is the consequences of these poor decisions which seems to interest Zahler most, although he is not above utilising the extreme violence inherent in exploitation cinema. Vomit, blood and exposed internal organs all share screen time with the main cast.
The camera acts as an incredibly disinterested observer, simply recording these proceedings – at great length and in long static takes – as they spiral out of control, capturing a world of complex stillness peppered by outbursts of shocking violence. The screenplay deals with important social issues with a frankness which is anathema to mainstream Hollywood. It probes and questions an aging section of white masculinity unable to deal with a changing world of shifting boundaries and newfound respect, interrogating lazy racial prejudices as it goes.
And it is quite gripping……. right until it is not as the pacing runs away from him in an overlong, overplayed third act which takes those lengthy, still shots and glacially paced moments of crisis to extremities which border on the dull. To Zahler’s credit, he cares far more about portraying the complexities of human interactions, joys and tragedies than he does in providing a particularly twisty narrative. People not plot really power this picture but his hold on the dramatic tensions they endure is sometimes tenuous at best.