Pints Of The Black Stuff
We’re now three feature movies into the work of writer/director S. Craig Zahler with the arrival of the beautifully brutal ‘Dragged Across Concrete’ (2019). If you are familiar with his previous works ‘Bone Tomahawk’ (2015) and ‘Brawl In Cell Block 99’ (2017), that he both wrote and directed, you will be aware of what is almost a ceremonial, glacier experience of storytelling. There is a distinct languid pace, like watching blood dry, before an ice wall of absolute devastating destruction effectively and unremorsefully crushes everything before it.
Like Guinness, Zahler’s approached is an acquired taste, not for everyone, but like Guinness I BLOODY LOVE IT! The pouring of a decent pint of the black stuff is almost in itself a religious service, every sequence dutifully and historically crafted towards reaching the end result of perfection. The pace is designed to mature the end result, the ingredients and elements are shaken up in the pour, but the relatively long settling period is essential before that final punch of satisfying deep flavour and aroma.
These are also the characteristics of Zahler’s films, which in a world of alcopops and shots of instant gratification, he’s not so much cutting against the grain as using dynamite to fell trees. It’s with an extremely knowing rye smile that he is deliberately creating works that are absolutely not of the moment, attention span, and as such enter the realms of timelessness.
Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) is a near retiring cop from a generation of (career crippling) smash heads first, don’t even bother asking questions later as the suspects’ jaw will be broken, in traction and won’t be able to speak anyways. Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughan) is his slightly younger partner in supposed to be crime solving, not creating it on a daily basis. Frustratingly the tactics that Ridgemann uses are very effective, if totally illegal, and so begins a quandary of ethics and results for the characters and the viewers.
Their highly individual approach to their job is unfortunately for them caught on camera and suspensions ensue. This wouldn’t be great at any stage, but given that Ridgman is dealing with a huge amount of extra stresses at home with his young daughter and incapacitated wife, he’s barely coping on any level, never mind sanity.
Something desperately has to change, as what he has being doing for decades, following the rules (sort of) isn’t working at all, nor will be rewarded. Desperation seeds, and a plan is nurtured to resolve the anguish, even just to get his family to a new home in a safer area. Clearly nature vs nurture is a constant throughout life, and not just in our early days.
They have made enough contacts over the years to know the guys who know the guys who know where swathes of illegal money will be stored at any given time. A target is chosen, studied, and everything goes spectacularly wrong.
Of course, this being a Zahler story, we are in no rush to get there, and the scenic route only makes the entire journey all the more rewarding.
There are early hints of the darkness that may come with the introduction of an extremely tooled up, body armoured gunman is seemingly randomly going round murdering people and packets of crisps, in such a brutally callous manner that is striking in just how off-kilter his behaviour is. But given that this is near the beginning, it’s just a taster snack.
The crushing weight of desperation isn’t solely inflicted upon the brow of Ridgeman, and there are multiple strands of this fraying society, that all are trying to cope with the situation they find themselves in, with zero apparent options of salvation, an indictment of contemporary society to say the least.
Given that all the main protagonists are men, there is an overwhelming trait of violence being deemed the solution to all problems, and that belief being so indoctrinated into themselves over years of habit that other options are not only not entertained, they are profoundly not even comprehensible. There are no ‘good men’ even though there may be hints of it’s possibility in a couple of them.
To sustain a running time of 2h 39mins you seriously have to know your craft, and nobody disappoints. The leads are all outstanding, particularly in the hangdog mundanity and daily droll of police/criminal work, especially in some beautifully bizarre stakeouts that show an exquisite awareness in the dance and sway of profound boredom.
Zahler is wonderfully adept at very memorable lines, that aren’t cool for the sake of cool, but are more often gleeful in their absurdity, yet wholly human at the same time. Given the well recorded historical outbursts by Gibson in real life, there is a somewhat phenomenal scene involving him, Vaughen and Don Johnson (playing Chief Lt. Calvert) in a hyper meta-commentary about life and the media’s deliberate selective bias in presenting it, and village mob mentality that ensues. I actually thought Mel was going to Fleabag us at the end of it with a knowing wink to the camera. There are other references throughout that may be deemed un PC, but there’s no denying that such views exist, and surely more damage is done by pretending that they don’t.
The craftsmanship is across the pitch black blood splattered board though, sterling performances, writing, cinematography, exploitationesque soundtrack (by Jeff Herriott and Zahler once again) and a ridiculously rewarding and refreshing ability to shake things up to the extent that at no point at all throughout the entire movie will you be able to guess what will happen next.
It is a long movie, but it doesn’t feel too long, and as with the pint of porter, it’s enjoyed all the more if you let yourself slip into the embracing darkness.
‘Dragged Across Concrete’ is out in UK & Irish cinemas now.