Dragged Across Concrete (***1/2) is a symbol of a great faltering career

Dragged Across Concrete – 2019

Written and Directed by S. Craig Zahler
Starring Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Fred Melamed, Udo Kier, Thomas Kretschmann, Don Johnson

For a lot of years I believed that the quality of my work, what we do together, what I did with my previous partners… would get me what I deserved. But I don’t politic and I don’t change with the times, and it turns out that shit’s more important than good honest work.

Brett Ridgeman

Dragged Across Concrete feels like an epitaph on the career of Mel Gibson. He’s done good work for so many years, only to be busted down to making movies that make their debut off the big screen. This is a fate that is not exclusive to the former Road Warrior and Martin Riggs of Lethal Weapon fame. Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone have all done straight to video stuff for a while. For Mel Gibson, the fate seems more of an indictment, though. He committed the ultimate sin of being a drunk driver, philanderer, seemingly abusive and conservative. This is a ticket to the curb in the land of make believe.

The man is immensely talented, though. He’s as good a director as he is an actor. He’s got a charisma that cannot be denied once seen on screen. That carries over into Dragged Across Concrete. It’s the third film of S. Craig Zahler. His first film, Bone Tomahawk, is nearly a classic. His second, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is hard core and tougher to take. This one is somewhere in between.

The story is two pronged. One story involves Ridgeman (Gibson) and partner Lurasetti (Vaughn) as a pair of detectives that are great at what they do, but too brutal for a world with cell phone cameras. They are suspended without pay, and this does not work for either of them. Ridgeman is married with a daughter. They are barely getting by. His wife (Holden) is a disabled former police officer. His daughter is harassed often on her way home from school.

Lurasetti has issues of his own. On the verge of proposing marriage, being suspended without pay is not any sort of appealing gesture to accompany his offer. Ridgeman has something in mind to solve that for both of them.

Henry Johns (Kittles) is just out of prison. He comes home to see his mom hooking and his disabled brother waiting silently in his room for her to finish. 6 months behind on their bill payments, they are beyond down and out.

Henry’s friend, Biscuit (White) has an offer for him that could change their fortunes…

These two paths converge in a brutal, drawn out series of events. The action takes time to arrive. In the meantime, there are several conversations smarter than one might expect if one hadn’t already seen Zahler’s earlier work. His characters are almost always wiser to their situation, if not smart enough to completely avoid fate.

Which brings me back to Gibson. His work here is as good as anything he’s done. He’s got a charisma in lock step with his gruff demeanor. His focused performance feels like a magnifying glass over his personal life. He knows the score. He will not rise above the outdated machine he’s spent years hard wiring. He cannot win for himself. Maybe he can win for someone else.

That someone else will possibly surprise you, but you have to earn your way to that surprise. There are some incredibly long, slow chase scenes. The conversations are good ones, but incredibly futile. There is a devastating lack of hope that pervades the atmosphere throughout. If you didn’t like either of Zahler’s previous films or any of the work Gibson has acted in since Braveheart, this won’t change your mind.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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