Two cops, Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn’s Brett Ridgeman and Anthony Lurasetti, have crossed so many lines that they’re put on leave pending investigation. Needing funds fast, they trail a crew of heavily armed thieves, including recently paroled petty thief Slim (Tory Kittles). S. Craig Zahler’s approach is slow-burning, with plenty of crime violence for those seeking a bloody knock around, but something substantially darker and multilayered lies beneath in?Dragged Across Concrete.
Ridgeman and Lurasetti are criminals with badges, but their backstories are diversely blended, highlighting their racism and out-of-place tendencies in a twenty-first century world. Ridgeman’s wife is an ex-cop, with a medical diagnosis crippling her, and wrestling with the growing racism she feels due to a neighborhood gang that is menacing their teenage daughter. Lurasetti wants to make an honest woman of his black girlfriend. When the two of them participate in a curb-stomping of a suspect while pursuing a bust and doing their own menacing of the suspect’s girlfriend, their captain tells them they’re bunched, judging their methods as excessive while also commenting on the way they’ve fallen off from the cops they once were. [Gibson’s mustache alone reminds us that these guys are neanderthals.]
On the other side, Slim has an intelligence, and an underscored morality, that leads him to try and protect his mother and his son, but that also leads him to a role in Vogelman’s (Thomas Kretschmann) bullion heist. He’s potentially the most intelligent, most redeemable creep of the whole bunch? – likable because he at least acknowledges who he is and what his motivations are. Each of the characters has a verbal eloquence that belies their criminal tendencies, as if to say that while we aren’t inclined to be violent, disgraced cops, our baser tendencies shouldn’t be ignored by white collar mirages.
Dragged Across Concrete is completely unenjoyable and yet somehow utterly repugnant, too. The script takes us to places we don’t want to go (and many might not even watch), pushed to the point where a criminal dissects a man’s entrails on screen to find a necessary, yet swallowed, key. We’re supposed to be offended, right? It’s almost as if we’re being dared to look away, but drawn in by the performances to the point where the director coyly knows we won’t.
It’s nearly impossible to tell whether or not Zahler’s perspective is critical of the actions that these men take, or endorsing of them. Or maybe he’s just proposing that this is the way the world works, and it all is aimed at mutual destruction. (To be clear, his previous two films weren’t any ride in the park.) There seem to be subtle asides about the way the world has become completely offended by social distortion that was acceptable previously, with a less-than-veiled conversation parallel to Gibson’s own drunken rant. But the contradiction, the penalties and consequences for these actions, lies in the bloody ending.