After the brilliant, wince triggering cowboy/cannibal “caper” Bone Tomahawk, then brawling in cell block 99 with Vince Vaughan, for his third film in as many years, writer/ director S. Craig Zahler diverts his slow roving gaze to the subject of corrupt city cops crossing over into the criminal underworld. Dragged Across Concrete is an urban cop thriller peppered with emblematic zaps of dagger-sharp dialogue and nerve cutting violence, with a story reinforced by intoxicating family drama and complex characters.
Disgruntled cops Brett Ridgeman and Anthony Lurasetti (Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughan) are temporarily suspended without pay for using excessive force on a suspect during a police raid. Due to their sudden financial set-back the two set out to sabotage a crime syndicate’s heist to make sure they and their families are funded for the foreseeable. Naturally setbacks ensue and hot water arises.
As with Bone and Brawl, DAC burns slow and simmers for the first act; setting its scene, tenor and characters in Zahler’s inimitable, sullen manner, but captivates constantly with striking visuals and challenging protagonists (brimming with rage vehemence and political incorrectness). An engrossing, probing plot is studded with Zahler’s on-the-nose dialogue and delivered with deftness by the cast via nifty direction.
Zahler’s apt, blue mood is moulded by the aforementioned and adorned by a notable lack of music to (un)govern the air. Not counting The O’Jays’ excellent “Shotgun Safari”, composed by Zahler and Jeff Herriot, which injects a burst of energy over the closing, cast/ clip stacked credits. But the prevailing atmosphere, while fitting to the source, sometimes seems detrimental to the wry comedy one liners which protrude like dislodged funny bones from the leg of a drug addled mare, and often land clumsily.
DAC’s protagonists are enriched with defects, making their motives and plights resound as significant and authentic. Background characters are also multifaceted and are not just jimmied in plot cogs to serve the story mechanics, but vital, mood manipulating components. One key character, Henry (Tory Kittles) switches to villain from hero, then antihero and back, but commands the first and final acts and remains predominantly pivotal.
Brett’s teenage daughter Sara (Jordyn Ashley Olson) and disabled wife Melanie (Laurie Holden) also have their own goals, arcs and issues with stories that enthral and inform the central narrative. Melanie is concerned at how resilient Sara is after seeing her seemingly emotionless reaction to being attacked by local thugs, which she claims are making her (“a liberal”) racist. Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Michael Jai White and Udo Kier also have crucial supporting roles.
The characters, their conflicts (emotional and physical) and drives align for a cracking finale, following a riveting heist sequence, involving a gun battle on gravel. They enrich DAC with heart, sustenance and subtext that many urban cop thrillers discard for dry action or mishandle. While DAC may burn too slow for some, it remains scintillating cinema with retina searing thrills, classic corrupt cop characters and captivating visuals. Strong drama at the story core makes it much more than a by the numbers thriller, but a powerhouse tour de force action/ drama, which meanders slightly during drawn out dialogue scenes, but predominantly prevails.