Dragged Across Concrete

Dragged Across Concrete
Dragged Across Concrete
Directed by S. Craig Zahler
Starring Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles, Jennifer Carpenter and Don Johnson
In UK Cinemas April 19th, 2019

by Joanna Orland

It’s acceptable for a movie to feature racist characters, but when the line between the characters and the film itself is blurred as much as it is in Dragged Across Concrete, the content becomes troublesome. Is S. Craig Zahler’s latest merely a depiction or commentary of casual right-wing racism, or is it just racist? The director refuses to take an outright stance in this film which is dangerous territory in today’s political climate, with white nationalism on the rise. While the film features black hero characters such as Henry (Kittles), they are not characterized as generously as the white, right-wing cops played by Gibson and Vaughn. Not only is unequal screen time given, which is fair enough due to lesser known casting choices, but Henry and his friend Biscuit are featured as stereotypes. Ridgeman (Gibson) and Lurasetti (Vaughn) are given complex reasons for their actions. And while Lurasetti is shown to have a black girlfriend, she doesn’t seem to question his overt racism – the racism of a police officer who was filmed on duty in a violent racist act.

And then there’s the misogyny. Again, the characters themselves are obviously misogynist. To the point where in one early scene I nearly expected Ridgeman to refer to a naked woman as “Sugar Tits”. The one “positive” female of the film is Kelly (Carpenter); a mother who is emotionally struggling to return to work after an extended maternity leave. Even the depiction of her mental state and maternal aspects are portrayed through a male gaze, belittling and offensive from the female perspective. And this is the positive female character of the film.

As troubling as the racism and misogyny are in Dragged Across Concrete, the film is not without knowing what it’s doing. The dialogue can often be so meta, you could think you were watching the openly conservative real life actors chatting about their lives on-screen. The prime example of this is a scene between Ridgeman and Lusaretti – two policemen being reprimanded for getting caught on film being racist in an arrest – and their superior Lt. Calvert (Johnson) as they discuss how the media and society is so quick to judge and punish people for politically insensitive behaviour. The Mel-ephant in the room is addressed as Mel Gibson in particular rants about this judgement, his refusal to play the game, and his years of being left behind and punished for being true to his values. He may as well have looked at the camera and winked as he said, “I don’t politick and I don’t change with the times.” The dialogue is so obviously knowing, but also the casting of Mel Gibson heightens this to the extreme. It feels as though no other actor could have so legitimately played Ridgeman as his self-inflicted plight mirrors that of Gibson’s.

The bitterness towards the new liberal order by these middle-aged white men who feel left behind goes on and on throughout Dragged Across Concrete. They make flippant comments on race, gender, sexuality – anything that would provoke a liberal. I nearly choked when Vaughn delivered the line, “Every Martin Luther King Day, I order a cup of dark roast.” The lines are delivered without irony, without sarcasm, so cold and matter-of-fact, it is genuinely hard to separate the character from the filmmaker. A filmmaker who in the past has been accused of demonizing and belittling minorities (Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99), with the term “Maga-bait” being mentioned in the same breath as his films. But S. Craig Zahler is such a good filmmaker, it’s hard to believe that he is doing this for any other reason other than to provoke his audience, to open up the topic to discussion and pay homage to a genre of B-movie and exploitative filmmaking that someone like Quentin Tarantino has also mined for provocative content.

Whereas Tarantino’s scripts feel more like an over-the-top parody of the genre, Zahler is very serious in his portrayals. His style continues to be overly long, tension-building scenes, with a level of graphic violence more horrible than the average film, with a payoff at the end that has been worth the endurance test. And with Dragged Across Concrete, for all of its many many flaws, Zahler again succeeds in building tension through the tedium, justifying very unforgiving casting choices, being just ambiguous enough in his views, and delivering a finale that exceeds expectations. I feel conflicted; but maybe that’s the point?


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