The third film from S. Craig Zahler is epically long, queasily provocative and brutally violent, but so brilliantly made you can excuse all of that… to a point.
Zahler, who previously made the weird comedy/horror/western Bone Tomahawk and the ultra-violent prison drama Brawl In Cell Block 99, here seems to be deliberately asking for his audience to be offended, and many members certainly will be, but there’s no denying that this is visually stunning pseudo-Elmore Leonard/B Movie pulp with impressive performances throughout. It’s just that everything goes on way, way too long and so many of the characters are horrible.
Urban beat cops Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn, star of Brawl) are involved in a drug bust that goes to Hell when the volatile, old-school Ridgeman bashes the suspect and both men mock his partially-deaf girlfriend, and this is all caught on video. They’re immediately presented as a nasty pair indeed, and there’s the added bonus of seeing Mel – quite the un-PC figure offscreen – play such a raging, racist bastard, and so well too. Who knew that he could be this daringly self-aware, or that Zahler would wave this mean in-joke in our faces so enthusiastically?
A media circus ensues and the two men are suspended without pay by Chief Lieutenant Calvert (Don Johnson in a cameo), and as both need money they decide to press criminal contact Friedrich (cult icon Udo Kier) for leads to get involved in something illegal but lucrative. This puts them on the path of scary Lorentz Vogelmann (German actor Thomas Kretschmann playing another heavy), who’s preparing to rob a bank of a score of gold bullion.
All this activity is intercut with the plight of ex-con Henry Johns (Tory Kittles), who’s driven by desperation to sign up for Vogelmann’s robbery with old pal Biscuit (Michael Jai White), little knowing what they’re in for. Considering that Henry and Biscuit are ostensibly bad guys, they’re actually the heart and soul of the whole movie, in the end, while Brett and Anthony, supposed goodies, are really pretty damn bad.
This naturally leads to a mightily overextended, flashily handled final act full of extreme violence that goes on and on and on and on and on, with the graphic action veering from the shocking, to the comic, to the ridiculous and, finally, to the tedious. But there’s still so much here to like, not least that cast that also includes Laurie Holden (still best-known for her role on TV’s The Walking Dead) as Brett’s equally racist wife and Jennifer Carpenter (formerly of TV’s Dexter), who arrives onscreen very late and is treated appallingly.
And yet what here is most offensive? The sometimes hideous carnage? The ghastly characters? The deliberately right-wing overtones? Or director Zahler’s insatiable need to offend? After being dragged across concrete for 159 minutes it’s hard to choose, but you could still enjoy the bloody thing too. And hate yourself in the morning.
Dragged Across Concrete (R) is in cinemas now