Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Dragged Across Concrete’ on Netflix, A Cop Thriller Unbothered by Political Correctness Concerns
If someone were to design a nuclear bomb to detonate within discourse, it would look a whole lot like S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete, now streaming on Netflix. Mel Gibson playing a violent (and arguably racist) cop prone to excessive force is fodder enough. But the film also makes him the hero of a story that vindicates a worldview and mindset seldom seen on-screen … yet shared by many people off it.
The Gist: Partners Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) are of the “ends justify the means” school of policing, even when that means being … well, quite mean-spirited. A brutal fire escape beating of a Hispanic subject gets them a six-week suspension from the force when their behavior gets caught on tape. For Ridgeman in particular, the incident becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back. His wife, also formerly on the force, struggles with MS. His daughter has been assaulted in their neighborhood for the fifth time in two years. He’s been at the same rank for 30 years because he refuses to change with the times, counting on his work to get him promoted.
Ridgeman decides to take matters into his own hands for his own future survival, and he brings Lurasetti along for the ride. Their exploits place them squarely in the crosshairs of a professional thief with little regard for human life. Busting and burgling these criminals becomes not only a matter of self-interest for the disgraced duo — it also dishes out justice and restores order according to his own worldview. Ridgeman does meet something of his match in one of the henchmen, recent parolee Henry Johns (Tory Kittles), who’s subtly quite shrewd in working through extralegal means to get ahead in life.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The blueprint is Dirty Harry but even more embittered and aggrieved by right-wing media. There’s no pretense they can resolve their disaffection with their city’s criminal underbelly through any legitimate institutional process or remedy.
Performance Worth Watching: It’s no doubt that Gibson matches the grim tone of the movie best, but it’s Vince Vaughn who really stands out as the most impressive performer in the film. Those only familiar with Vaughn through his comedic work like Wedding Crashers will find it impressive just how much he sublimates that larger-than-life persona into the character of Lurasetti without siphoning it off altogether. There’s something that just feels very human and natural about the way he can allow himself to be a little silly in one moment, then a little somber in the next.
Memorable Dialogue: “Being branded a racist in today’s public forum is like being accused of communism in the ‘50s,” says Don Johnson’s Chief Lieutenant Calvert in a brief cameo to deliver the guiding ethos of the film. Whether you agree with the value statement or not, it’s a crucial line to state the lens through which these law enforcement officers view the world — and their seemingly diminished place within it.
Sex and Skin: The very first scene of the film features Henry doing some motel room lovemaking, which might lead one to think Dragged Across Concrete will go as hard in sex as it does on violence. But after this opening, the only revealing skin is in decidedly unsexy contexts as women are stripped and humiliated by cops and criminals alike.
Our Take: Alright, it’s time to address what this piece has danced around so far — is Dragged Across Concrete problematic? Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler might claim he’s not a political filmmaker, but that just is not supported by what’s on screen. No one in the film is wearing a MAGA hat, but it’s not hard to see this film as highly attuned to the “deep story” that undergirds the worldview of many conservative Americans. In this narrative, crime (largely perpetrated by Black and brown people) is out of control. Hard-working people who are trying to keep the world safe pay the price and are made to suffer while violence explodes because the police are too focused on being politically correct to do their jobs.
Zahler does not just let vigilantism, racism, and embittered conservatism go unchecked … but he’s also not afraid to let them win out as a more mainstream Hollywood film would. The film relishes showing just how savage the criminals are by not shying away from depicting the full barbarity of their violence — and using a young, white mother as a metaphor for the perfect victim. The thinnest of thin blue lines separates Dragged Across Concrete from becoming American Carnage: The Movie.
Whether one agrees with this vision of America or not, it’s widely held within the country — and any attempt to counter it must first understand it. There’s value to movies like Dragged Across Concrete existing and trying to make that case in a way that’s fully realized so people can understand what persuasive power this kind of narrative can have over people. In the first hour or so, one can find an almost anthropological interest in piercing this kind of psyche that favors aggressive, immediate intervention to protect a status quo that the characters perceive as in peril. But it does begin to, ahem, drag in its back half when a prolonged armed showdown between the rogue cops and the robbers stops the movie dead in its tracks. Zahler does not necessarily earn all 160 minutes that he gives audiences, but there’s enough of that time that’s worthwhile to ponder.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Dragged Across Concrete is a conversation starter that forces viewers to sit with worldviews and ideologies they might find deeply uncomfortable. It’s somewhat easier to sort out one’s feelings about these things by grappling with them as narrative, not as political propaganda. While it’s certainly not a pleasant watch thanks to its brutal violence and bloated runtime, the murkiness merits discussion and deliberation.
Marshall Shaffer is a New York-based freelance film journalist. In addition to Decider, his work has also appeared on Slashfilm, Slant, The Playlist and many other outlets. Some day soon, everyone will realize how right he is about Spring Breakers.
Watch Dragged Across Concrete on Netflix