Director S Craig Zahler doesn’t make things easy for his audience. A strong stomach and buttocks of steel were pre-requisites for getting through his masterful western-horror mashup Bone Tomahawk, and his gut-wrenchingly violent second feature Brawl in Cell Block 99, starring a beefed-up Vince Vaughn as a jailbird blackmailed into carrying out a hit.
Running to 132 minutes each, they were slow-burning nightmares, with a strong eye for design and character detail, beautifully-honed dialogue and graphic explosions of bodily carnage.
His new film, a jaundiced and self-consciously provocative cop movie, has less of the latter but runs even longer – 159 minutes! – moves slower, and is infused with the Trumpian zeitgeist.
Zahler is frequently characterised as a right-wing filmmaker, and Dragged Across Concrete seems designed as a queasy ‘up yours’ to political correctness and liberalism, albeit with some built-in caveats to create the impression of distance between Zahler and some of his characters’ more toxic views. It nevertheless provides a handy starting point for discussions about race, masculinity, class, and the American Dream, if you can get past the bad taste it leaves behind.
In an on-the-nose piece of casting, Mel Gibson plays Brett Ridgeman, a racist cop whose heavy-handed treatment of a drug dealer during a bust is caught on video, landing him and his younger partner, Anthony Lurasetti (Vaughn, another Hollywood conservative), with a six-week unpaid suspension.
Ridgeman is a dinosaur who refuses – or perhaps is unable – to change with the times. In a couple of exchanges he could be Gibson himself, pugnaciously and unapologetically describing his position as someone whose tainted public image has had damaging implications for his career. To his credit, Gibson plays Ridgeman with such stony conviction that it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for the flawed, world-weary lawman.
Desperate for money, he pulls Lurasetti into a plan to steal from a gang whose latest job turns out to be a bank robbery. It also happens to be the same job on which ex-con Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) and his friend Biscuit have been hired as getaway drivers. Their paths will eventually cross, with predictably violent consequences.
Zahler pulls it all off with such style and originality that you want to stay with his film, even though there are times when you question whether or not you should.