At 158 minutes, writer-director S. Craig Zahler’s latest film, “Dragged Across Concrete,” is not exactly short. Instead—and happily—it is exactly how long it needs to be. Zahler has created a movie which is intricate and detailed, where nothing lags, where nothing is missing. It is not a tale for everyone, it certainly isn’t terribly different from movies we have seen before, but it is beautifully crafted.
This is a dirty cop-heist movie full of shades of dark grey. There are few good guys here, not Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn as suspended detectives Brett Ridgeman and Anthony Lurasetti, respectively; not Tory Kittles as newly released from prison Henry Johns; not Michael Jai White as Henry’s friend, Biscuit; and certainly not Thomas Kretschman’s robbery mastermind, Lorentz Vogelmann. These men are not all on the same side of the robbery, but the way the film builds, the audience knows that their paths are all set to cross eventually.
With Ridgeman, Lurasetti, and Johns, we have an understanding of why these people are all getting involved with different ends of the robbery, but one would be hard-pressed to declare any of the men the latest coming of Robin Hood even if they have may espouse positive ideals from time to time. Zahler’s film works, however, because we are able to engage with the characters, whether they are right or wrong. They all have things which humanize them, but perhaps none more than Lurasetti, who continually hedges on whether or not he wants to be involved with anything out and out illegal. He doesn’t, seemingly, have any problems with pushing the envelope when it comes to police work, but robbery is (maybe) different.
Even the enigmatic characters—one is known only as Black Gloves (Primo Allon) and another as Gray Gloves Matthew MacCaull)—are enthralling. In the case of these last two folks, it is because we know so little about them that the representations are successful. When we initially see them, they each do something that causes the audience to take notice but they act with little fanfare, and then the scene ends. We do not know how these pieces fit into the larger story, but in Zahler’s handling of it, it is again clear that it will all somehow come together.
This is why someone can watch the movie for more than two-and-a-half hours – there is a clear sense that there is a purpose to it, a reasoning and methodology behind it. The actors are compelling, yes, but it is waiting to see how everything will eventually comes together that keeps the audience watching and they will not be disappointed.
One of the more interesting things in the movie, at least as it relates to characters, is that the women tend to come off better than the men. All of them are not entirely removed from the darker side, but Ridgeman’s daughter, Sara (Jordyn Ashley Olson), and Lurasseti’s girlfriend, Denise (Tattiawna Jones), are amongst the unblemished characters. An argument can be made as well for Rigeman’s wife, Melanie (Laurie Holden), but it is more weak. Melanie has a questionable moment or two in her actions/words. But, no matter how one picks them apart, they all lean more towards the good than the ill.
Other female characters (notably those played by Jennifer Carpenter and Justine Warrington) wind up as victims, and this, too, must cause one to pause. It, as with everything else in “Dragged Across Concrete” is part of a larger world view espoused by the film, and it is upsetting. These are characters with far less agency than the men, who tend to be acted upon rather than in control. It is a choice which pulls the viewer out of the movie, and while it is one of the few things that does, it is a big one.
“Dragged Across Concrete” is helped, somewhat, by the fact that, as noted, the men tend to be dark shades of gray. This is not a movie full of role models. It is, however, an intricate, well-developed, heist movie and fans of the genre will find it exceptionally enjoyable.
Zahler is an interesting filmmaker and one continues to wonder what he will do next.
photo credit: Lionsgate