Mel Gibson finally portrays the old racist firebrand he’s been rehearsing for his entire life in Dragged Across Concrete. It’s the biggest cinematic self-own I’ve ever seen. Writer/director S. Craig Zahler insists time and time again that his films aren’t political. “My movies don’t have an ax to grind,” is the way he usually puts it. So I guess he just accidentally spent years of his life writing and directing this right-wing trollfest? I’m sure Zahler was completely bewildered when he needed to cast an old racist firebrand and Gibson just happened to walk by at that exact moment with nothing else to do that day. Yes, Dragged Across Concrete just so happened to stumble over political correctness and “owning the libs” broke its fall. 100% believable.
The joke is on Zahler. Casting Gibson, an actor often accused of being a bigot, to play an accused bigot was clearly meant to elicit a “Wow, I can’t believe he just said that!” reaction. Precisely the opposite happens. I actually feel more comfortable watching Gibson co-star as a burned-out detective who plans to rob a drug deal when he gets suspended after video of his violent arrest of a Hispanic suspect goes viral. “Being labeled a racist in America today is like being called a communist in the 50s,” his sergeant warns him. There’s got to be three dozen other lines like that in the movie, which is why it’s impossible to believe Zahler doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. Most of those lines come from Gibson, and they cover just about every right-wing troll adage you see in the comments section underneath Captain Marvel trailers.
Vince Vaughn is in the movie, too. He’s another suspended cop who plans a heist with Gibson; however, since most of the movie takes place in a parked car while the partners stakeout their target, he basically just sits there to give the old man a cloud at which to rant. Vaughn’s only big moment in this nearly 3-hour trudge is one long, unbroken take of his character eating an entire sandwich. I’m amazed the sound crew somehow managed to actually stick a microphone down Vaughn’s throat so you could listen to every lip smack and swoosh of saliva for a solid 4 minutes. Vaughn is by no means “bad,” but all his presence does is get in the way of Tory Kittle’s subplot, which probably should have been the focus of Dragged Across Concrete in the first place.
Kittles plays the only character who seems like a real person, and his subplot feels like heavier stakes than detectives just sitting around. It feels like the movie is trying to force a scene-stealer on us. Or what it thinks is a scene stealer, I guess? It gets worse when the movie’s other grand attempt at shock value is almost as lame as Gibson himself.
Zahler’s previous film, the graphic prison fight movie Brawl in Cellblock 99, is one of my all-time favorites. In Zahler’s mind, I’m sure Dragged Across Concrete is an attempt to tell a much more “mature” story, with commentary and stuff. Stay in the pocket, buddy. You’re really, really good at movies about guys in prison who snap limbs and crush heads. Next time you have an ax to grind, maybe just shut up.
Grade = D+