Venice 2018: S. Craig Zahler's 'Dragged Across Concrete' is Uber Brutal
by Alex Billington
September 4, 2018
He's at it again with more brutal violence. Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler is back at the Venice Film Festival again this year after premiering his film Brawl in Cell Block 99 starring Vince Vaughn last year. His latest is Dragged Across Concrete, a 2-hour-and-40-minute-long slow burn drama about two cops who get into some crazy stuff after they're suspended from the force. Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson star as the two police officers, who finish a drug bust at the start, but get in trouble for being a bit too violent to the perp during their apprehension. What follows is an extremely slow burn film that builds up with the payoff punch line coming at the very, very end. With this film, Zahler has finally gone a little too far with his slow burn-plus-brutal violence indulgence, and the film comes close to making some shady statements along the way.
By now, if you're going to see an S. Craig Zahler film, you should know what you're getting into - and that's fine. He has a style that can be enjoyable, as it does with his first two films, but this one seems like an odd exercise in indulgence. Vaughn's performance in Brawl in Cell Block 99, as an actual fully-fleshed character with mannerisms and dialogue that is compelling to watch, is much better than his performance here. In Dragged Across Concrete, Vaughn and Gibson have very stunted, slow dialogue that isn't compelling. They speak deliberately and without any excess, but it's so slowly delivered it's annoying melodramatic and not in an amusing way. It's just frustrating to watch, because they don't seem to be working with fully developed characters, instead they're just delivering shoddy dialogue exactly the way Zahler wants without any nuance.
The plot itself is a bit questionable as well. The two cops get in trouble at the start after a neighbor records them being extra violent to a criminal, so they're suspended. Gibson's character then decides to go out and look for crime on his own, and they end up finding something much bigger going on in their city. But then comes some odd commentary about how if only they hadn't been caught and suspended while putting away an actual criminal, they could've been free to catch other criminals and stop other killings. But this seems to be Zahler flirting with this idea rather than stating it as fact, and eventually (many, many minutes later) it gets to a point where he does clear up the film's actual message and thankfully it's not about how these cops shouldn't have been in trouble. But it takes way too long to get there and borders on being dull half the time.
The other frustrating problem with this film is that Zahler gets ridiculously manipulative with a few minor supporting characters. He introduces them suddenly, almost randomly half way through the film, provides an emotional aspect for us to connect to, then brutally murders them a few minutes later. It's a big "fuck you" to the audience, and you can almost hear him grinning behind the lens knowing that this is going to piss off plenty of viewers. It really doesn't make sense to do this and get away with it unless there is a real narrative reason and there isn't. He's just doing it here to be emotionally manipulative and test viewers and see who will stick through all of this to get to that final payoff at the end. Honestly, I can't see most sitting through this without getting tired and turning it off at some point before they even reach the halfway mark.
On one hand, I do appreciate Zahler's incredibly slow, slow burn style - with films that are as slow burning as smoking a cigar by the fire with a whiskey in hand watching the sun go down - and then come back up again. On the other hand, it's not that exciting or entertaining to see something that seems unnecessarily excessive in both length and violence. And the two lead characters aren't as fully realized as they should be, perhaps because there's not much for them to work with here. Zahler is testing our patience and our ability to accept brutality, which is an intriguing and provocative choice but one that ultimately doesn't work this time around. There's funny moments, and shocking moments, that make this worthy of some admiration, but it's a big step down from Brawl and Bone Tomahawk. Only watch this if slow storytelling is your thing.
Alex's Venice 2018 Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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