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Dragged Across Concrete

1,301 words

Dragged Across Concrete, S. Craig Zahler’s latest film, is a hardboiled, slow-burning neo-noir crime thriller that examines the plight of white men in modern America and the circumstances under which ordinary men are driven to crime. It further establishes Zahler (Bone Tomahawk [2015], Brawl in Cell Block 99 [2017]) as a highly talented filmmaker who is willing to take creative risks and deal with controversial ideas.

Set in the fictional urban dystopia of Bulwark, the film is a throwback to 1970s grindhouse cinema: gritty and bloody, with a pulp fiction sensibility. The plot revolves around two white police officers—Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Tony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn)—who are suspended on account of having used “excessive force” in their arrest of a Hispanic drug dealer. Faced with six weeks of unemployment, they decide to go rogue and rob a drug dealer in order to make ends meet: “We have the skills and the right to acquire proper compensation.”

Like Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, Dragged Across Concrete unfolds at a leisurely pace (running at about two and a half hours) and gradually builds up to a violent final act. The languorous pacing might bore some viewers, but it pays off in the end. Zahler has a knack for building tension and arranging each narrative element such that the plot develops like a game of chess.

Ridgeman and Lurasetti are, above all, normal working-class white guys: Ridgeman a middle-aged father and grizzled cop, Lurasetti a younger guy planning to propose to his girlfriend. They hold vaguely Right-wing views but are not consciously political. Lurasetti quips: “I’m not racist; every Martin Luther King Day, I order a cup of dark roast.” Glimpses of their home lives underscore their “everyman” quality, as does their casual banter (which also livens up the tedium of hanging around in cars during stakeouts and trailing vehicles in real time).

At the same time, Ridgeman is a loner and an outcast, a man left behind by modernity. Gibson was born to play this role, channeling the spirits of Travis Bickle and Pike Bishop from Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). Ridgeman’s world is ruled by effete, PC bureaucrats who care more about appearances and politeness than actually fighting crime. There is a striking scene emphasizing this point in which an Asian convenience store clerk is watching a report about Gibson and Vaughn’s suspension when an armed robber suddenly bursts in and kills him.

The theme of race is prominent throughout the film. When Ridgeman and Lurasetti are suspended, their boss (Don Johnson) remarks that “being accused of racism in today’s public forum is like being accused of Communism in the ’50s,” and adds, alluding to the persecution of Gibson himself, that even casual remarks made in private can ruin one’s career. Ridgeman has consistently been denied a promotion due to his uncompromising personality, and his family live in a poor, predominantly black neighborhood. We learn that his daughter has been assaulted five times by young black men. His wife has an “I’m not racist, but . . . ” moment and says that she wants to move to a better (whiter) neighborhood. This provides the impetus for Ridgeman’s turn to crime.

Zahler does make a couple of concessions. Lurasetti’s girlfriend is of mixed-race heritage. The film also features a secondary storyline involving a black ex-convict, Henry Johns, who, like Ridgeman and Lurasetti, has turned to the criminal underworld to support his mother and his wheelchair-bound younger brother. He ends up working for the same guy that Ridgeman and Lurasetti are after. Their stories run parallel to each other and are interwoven throughout the film. They intersect in the final act, in which Henry turns out to be a man of integrity.

The film is sympathetic to Henry. That said, one gets the sense that his character only exists so that Zahler can claim to have engaged with multiple perspectives and to have eschewed racism. The subplot involving Henry and his sidekick, Biscuit, feels forced and perfunctory. Gibson and Vaughn receive much more screen time than Henry and Biscuit and are given more nuanced backstories and personalities. It is obvious that Zahler is more interested in the former pair. This makes sense: the question of what would drive two ordinary, law-abiding white policemen to crime is a more interesting premise than examining the motivations of a black criminal who just got out of jail and was probably predisposed to criminality to begin with.

There is also an anti-feminist subtext to the film. The “damsels in distress” motif in Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 reemerges here, with Ridgeman seeking to protect his wife and daughter. Ridgeman and Lurasetti harass the wife of the drug dealer arrested at the beginning of the film, which is played for laughs. In one extended interlude, a woman cries at the thought of returning to work from maternity leave and parting with her child, but her stay-at-home husband forces her to go to work. Then she is fatally shot during a bank robbery. (The mastermind of the robbery—a man named Vogelman—is the heroin dealer that Ridgeman and Lurasetti want to rob in turn.)

Zahler has not spoken much about his own views. He claims that he is “not a political person” and that his films are not driven by ideology. But each of his films has a pro-white slant: Bone Tomahawk is a Western with elements of horror that depicts bloodthirsty and savage Native Americans who kidnap white settlers, Brawl in Cell Block 99 depicts a white man (played by Vince Vaughn) who is sent to prison and must fight to protect his family, and Dragged Across Concrete looks at the plight of white men in modern urban hellholes.

One might ask whether Zahler, who is Jewish, genuinely sympathizes with working-class white men or whether he is just an edgy provocateur. He shares Tarantino’s love of the outré and revels in controversy: he penned the script for Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018), a movie about sadistic Nazi marionettes who embark on a killing spree. He also writes for the horror magazine Fangoria (recently purchased by the studio Cinestate, which produced Zahler’s previous films as well as Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich and The Standoff at Sparrow Creek [2018]).

I am sure that the shock factor partly accounts for Zahler’s fascination with “far-Right” themes, but his films also have genuine spiritual and psychological depth. The protagonist of Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a Christ-like figure who must descend into Hell (prison) and sacrifice himself for the greater good (his family). Dragged Across Concrete features a similar character arc and captures the alienation, despair, and silent rage of white men in the modern era.

Gibson and Vaughn, of course, are both known for their conservative views: Vaughn is a pro-gun libertarian (as is Kurt Russell, the lead in Bone Tomahawk), and Gibson is an anti-Semitic traditionalist Catholic. A picture of the pair taken during Meryl Streep’s anti-Trump speech at the 2017 Golden Globes ceremony shows Vaughn glaring and Gibson frowning at the actress, in contrast to the approving audience around them.

When The New York Times profiled White Nationalist Tony Hovater, readers reacted with outrage and argued that portraying him as a normal person made him seem benign and sympathetic (“On a recent weekday evening, Mr. Hovater was at home, sautéing minced garlic with chili flakes and waiting for his pasta to boil”). The article was clearly intended as a warning about “the Nazi next door,” but people rightly recognized that it actually had the effect of making White Nationalists seem relatable. Dragged Across Concrete functions in a similar manner. White guys watching the film will relate to Ridgeman and Lurasetti, and will find themselves sympathizing with Ridgeman’s struggle to protect his family and his alienation from the modern world.

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  1. Rado
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    This film started off well enough, but fell apart completely at the end, repudiating all the anti – PC assertions in the first part. In this sense, it’s worse than your basic liberal Hollywood film, which demonizes the right all the way through, because at first it sympathizes with pro white right wing positions then apologizes for them and renders them meaningless.

    The film was actually setting up for an interesting moral dilemma, where Mel Gibson playing a straight cop after decades decides to rip off some criminals to take care of his wife and daughter who are forced to live in a multicultural inner city hellhole and gets his honest younger partner, Vaughn, involved. Of course, what was supposed to be an easy heist turns out to be more complicated and the innocent casualties begin piling up, which they could’ve prevented and are now implicated. The question arises, will they make the right decision in the end and keep their integrity as cops with the message crime and corruption doesn’t pay.

    What happens instead in the end? Some black criminal side character and his crack whore mom end up with all the loot living in the lap of luxury somewhere by a lake in what looks like the Swiss alps.
    Truly farcical.

    Sure, Mel Gibson and Vaughn are punished for straying off the path and that could be a moral lesson of the film, but the fact that the black criminal is rewarded for his involvement in the crimes, completely repudiates the moral of the story.

    So what happened. White bourgoise sentimentality won the day. Sure, Gibson is conservative, but he’s also a penitent catholic. It’s as if they’re apologizing for the overt anti pc comments made earlier in the film at the end, by giving a happy end to this side character black guy, who turns out to secretly be smarter and possess more integrity than Mel Gibson and everyone else combined.
    Much of the positive portrayal of Blacks in films these days I believe is done out of sentimental pity. Make them astrophysicist geniuses or whatever. Of course the producers motivations are another matter.

    There are a bunch of other problems with the film as well. Suffice is to say it became totally ridiculous in the third act, and any philosophical basis fell apart, giving way to “cool” characters that do things for absolutely no reason at all. The message if there is one, is there is no rhyme or reason, just juvenile attempts to blow your mind, which might be amusing if you were a teenager with a low iq and a subconscious landfill of garbage mainstream media.

  2. Igor
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Also, all the villains are white.
    Gibson and Vaughn lose their moral authority and the bank robbers are led by two white guys who are coercing the black getaway drivers. The first white guy is dressed like some mass shooter and is going around killing people throughout the film mercilessly and indiscriminately, which a professional criminal wouldn’t be doing as it would draw too much heat. The leader of the gang is a European German gentlemen. Quite out of place, don’t you think.

    So the black criminal ends up the winner and is depicted as some kind of moral superior with integrity, taking care of his family, even though he participated in these heinous crimes and did nothing but save his own skin.
    What a double standard.
    Of course in the end, the reward is money like in every tacked on American happy end, as if that’s going to solve all our problems and social ills.

  3. Nick Mason
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    My review is similar but much more negative.

    • SR Scott
      Posted April 1, 2019 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Excellent review. I concur.

    • Peter Quint
      Posted April 2, 2019 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      You’re right, “Heat” is an excellent movie.

  4. Gibson's Agent
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Due credit to the newish Texas-based production company for funding all three of S. Craig Zahler’s films, with Dragged Across Concrete being the best, transcending the genre stylings of his previous films, with an early claim as Best Film of 2019.

    A pessimist might even argue this is the Only True Film of 2019, because compromise and kowtowing to SJW (((pressure))) has gnawed away at singular un-PC visions from white male directors. Sadly it appears Dragged Across Concrete was originally a wide release, it cost a fair amount to create, only to be dumped into pay-per-view obscurity. Zahler is a Jewish Atheist, if he were Anglo he’d be destroyed for this film’s pointedly hilarious DGAF attitude. (There are two Jews depicted in the film, one is a diamond merchant who has a familial Rolodex of lawyers, the other is a bank president enuciating like a silvertongued Drama professor who ends up like an 8chan punchline.)

    And Mel Gibson, probably back on the blacklist, for reaching deep and giving the greatest serious performance of his career.

    The first white guy is dressed like some mass shooter and is going around killing people throughout the film mercilessly and indiscriminately, which a professional criminal wouldn’t be doing

    (Spoilers) Was he not committing this heinous act to pin it on the black ex-con(s) as part of the post-heist disposal policy? There is method to the madness. He also created a big confusing sap of local police resources right before a heist. The primary robbers are white yes, sadistic professionals working for a Euro boss, but so were the robbers in Heat, which this film is influenced by. (The getaway driver in Heat is also a black ex-con.)

    There’s symbolism in white cops vs white robbers here, an even match of wits, operator skills, physical prowess, and extremely poor life decisions. Is the black guy the actual “winner”? He’s a scavenger, a hyena. And like Jussie Smollett’s Nigerian brother attackers, he’s forced to wear whiteface during crime time. How did Zahler get by with this? Tarantino couldn’t.

    What happens instead in the end? Some black criminal side character and his crack whore mom end up with all the loot living in the lap of luxury. …Truly farcical.

    It is farcical. Intentionally so. And it’s not altogether unrealistic. When black criminals catch a major payday they splurge like hip hop stars or basketball Americans. In a Hollywood movie, the oceanside mansion ending would be an unironic urban crowd pleaser, but after 150 minutes of meticulous plotting, I didn’t view it as a dealbreaker. It’s shown notably to only be 11 months later. That amount of flash catches the eye, after a 7 casualty bank heist of gold bullion and cash. But that’s what a solid film does (used to do), generate debate and thought. The small amount of gold the thug gives Gibson’s family also seemed like black commentary.

  5. Peter Quint
    Posted April 2, 2019 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    So, does anybody actually get dragged across the concrete?

    • Gibson's Agent
      Posted April 2, 2019 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      Yes, a black guy (and his intestines) is dragged across actual concrete. Libtard critics must have missed this scene when making the same sardonic remark. The title is also metaphorical. Gibson reassures Vaughn that no one will be executed during their heist of a heist: “That line is concrete.”

  6. Dazz
    Posted April 2, 2019 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    In regards to ‘Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)’, the movie is of a mocking and satirical nature e.g a Nazi memorabilia collecting Jew brags that Hitler failed to exterminate all the Jews, right before puppet he is holding gives him his own personal holocaust via flamethrower…Jew Producer Charles Band is obsessed with Nazis, and this is why the Puppet series references them, Zahler is working within the franchise but also subverting it.

    • Dazz
      Posted April 2, 2019 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Also film has a merchant Jew puppet that bursts outside of a pregnant Black Woman.

      • Peter Quint
        Posted April 3, 2019 at 8:29 am | Permalink

        Jewish men do so love black women.

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