When they’re caught on tape crushing a handcuffed suspect’s face into the pavement, racist, corrupt police officers Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are put on unpaid leave. Enraged that “the entertainment industry, formerly known as the news” has treated them “unfairly,” and believing that they have “the skills and the right to acquire proper compensation” the men decide to follow a tip from one of their criminal connections and rip off a bank heist. Of course, everything goes south when the robbers kill the tellers and take a woman hostage so our “heroes” won’t have as easy of time stealing the gold they believe they’re entitled to. Will they make it out alive? Watch the movie to find out. (Or don’t. You’ll be fine if you skip this one).
Dragged Across Concrete is a long (seriously, it’s 159 minutes) grueling, ugly, ugly film with despicable characters, and some very questionable politics. I only watched it because my roommate, a fellow film buff, insisted that this was an underrated gem that wasn’t getting its due. It’s not. This is just the latest entry in a long list of movies with dirty cops as protagonists, like Rampart, Bad Lieutenant, Street Kings, Filth, Three Billboards, and The Departed. The only thing it really does differently from those movies is how much time it spends on “process.” When I say process, I mean showing characters doing things in real time. In most movies, we cut to the interesting stuff. We don’t watch characters drive to every single location, go through all the steps needed to prepare a certain dish, wait in line, or other tedious things of that nature. This film does. There’s a good 30-minute section where the main characters are just sitting in a car, waiting for the robbers to show up, and I almost fell asleep during it. The only things that kept me awake during this very long, very boring stretch were the hateful gripes that Vaughn and Gibson’s characters made while sitting around, and that’s only because they made me so angry. Seriously, this film feels like a Breitbart article. There’s a scene where Gibson and Vaughn get suspended, but their boss, Don Johnson, says that he thinks what they did was fine, and that everyone’s too sensitive these days. To quote his character, “Being branded a racist in today’s public forum is like being accused of Communism in the 50s.” Then there’s a whole subplot involving Gibson’s daughter being bullied by Black boys in the neighborhood, and he and his wife getting convinced that they’ll rape her someday. His wife says, “I didn’t think I was a racist until I moved here.” And bear in mind, she doesn’t say that in a self-critical manner. She says that in a manner that conveys supreme confidence in her bigotry being justified. And there’s a whole sequence at the beginning where Gibson and Vaughn like I said, stomp on a suspect’s face while he’s handcuffed and on the ground. But that’s not even the worst part. Immediately after doing that, they pour cold water on the man’s deaf girlfriend and mock her for how she talks. “I didn’t understand that. Did you?” “No. Kinda sounded like a Dolphin.” This last bit in particular, where they mock a disabled person, and the film treats that mockery as both justified and funny, nearly made me stop watching. I hate how comfortable people feel mocking, condescending, and not hiring those with disabilities. As you might know, I’m legally blind, and that fact has hindered my ability to find work. Literally, the other day, I went into a burger shop and asked about a job, and the woman behind the counter said, “well, we are hiring, but we’re not gonna take on someone who can’t see.” This film argues, in every conceivable way, that tolerance for people who look different, sound different, or have different ways of living than you, is bullshit, and should be ignored. It’s fine to laugh at the disabled if you’re a White guy who arrests people. It’s not just normal, it’s good to be afraid of Black people because they will rape your virginal daughters.
Now before you claim that I’m just harping on this movie because I’m a snowflake libtard who can’t stand to see racism on screen, there are stylistic elements that I took issue with as well, namely, the dialogue. It’s so stilted. Here are some actual lines from the movie. “Before I consider that kind of vocation, I need to get myself acclimated.” “There was little time and less inclination.” “You still maintain that gum is for cows and imbeciles?” No one talks like that. Ever. And when you combine that with the over-long runtime, and the plethora of scenes where nothing really happens, you have more than enough reasons not to watch this movie.
Now, I do want to be fair and list some positives. The acting, with a few exceptions, is good. I liked the use of color, particularly when it comes to how interiors are lit. It was nice to see Michael Jai White, aka Black Dynamite, in a movie again. And there are some interesting subplots. For instance, one of the bank robbers is a man named Henry, who just got out of jail, and wants to provide for his little brother and his prostitute mother. There’s a touching scene at the beginning where you see him sleeping with a girl, possibly a prostitute, and he reveals that they went to school together, and he always had a crush on her. She admits she always liked him too, and Henry says he wished he’d known. You also get a long scene where you learn that one of the bank tellers recently came back to work from maternity leave. This is all good stuff, and if the movie had focused on these characters, instead of Vaughn and Gibson, it would have been shorter, and less infuriating. In fact, if you cut them out of the movie entirely, the story would still function and would be so much better. But, then again, it wouldn’t have been Dragged Across Concrete.
Needless to say, I don’t think you all should watch this movie. It’s long, it’s boring, it’s got some incredibly stilted dialogue, and some ugly, reprehensible characters, whom the film wants you to empathize with. I’ve heard people argue that the movie doesn’t take a side, that it portrays Gibson and Vaughn as bad men, but it doesn’t. They have so much more screen time, and their world views are given so much more attention, than anyone else. Directing is a process of making choices, choices about what scenes to include, and whose perspective you choose to tell your story from. The fact that S Craig Zahler chose to tell this story from these characters’ perspectives, and give them a greater chance to air their grievances than anyone else, says something. He might argue that he’s not racist and that his film isn’t political, but, even if that’s true, racist and right-wing people have already claimed this film as their own. It’s like the woman at the burger joint. Maybe she thought she was being nice by not hiring me since she’d convinced herself that a blind man would get hurt working a grill, but the end result is still the same. She still refused to hire me on discriminatory grounds. The same goes for this movie. The creators might claim that they were simply telling a “gritty,” “realistic” crime thriller that doesn’t adhere to political correctness and doesn’t take a side, but the end result is still the same; 2 and a half hours of old, bigoted white men complaining about how they aren’t appreciated anymore. Don’t waste your time with this.