Skip to main content

We have the skills and the right to acquire proper compensation.

Dragged Across Concrete
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Craig S Zahler’s response to controversy surrounding his – unstated, but people draw their own conclusions from his cumulative body of work – politics is to double down. He casts Mel Gibson as a good-guy-really racist cop and has his characters, sometimes with extreme lack of finesse, espouse his own thoughts on having a freedom to traverse such rocky terrain. You might argue he’s trolling his audience, and you’d have some degree of justification there. Dragged Across Concrete shows once again that he’s a very talented filmmaker – if over-indulgent and offputtingly exploitation cinema-indebted – but it becomes increasingly difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt in the scenarios he sets up.

One might suggest his decision to include an African-American protagonist (albeit clearly secondary to stars Gibson and Vince Vaughn) is an attempt to defuse accusations lobbed his way – the same with the African-American girlfriend of Vaughn’s racial epithet using cop – or one might see it as further stoking the fire and fanning the flames (Tory Kittles’ Henry Johns is, after all, an ex-con who ends the film in the lap of luxury, profiting from multiple murders of innocents).

I’ve certainly tended to avoid jumping to conclusions with regard to Zahler’s motives, noting that he’s clearly intending to provoke but accepting that the exploration of characters and viewpoints, even when those viewpoints suggest a running theme, don’t necessarily amount to an authorial perspective (or cumulatively, a “vile, racist right-wing fantasy”). That said, it’s somewhat disingenuous of him to claim he isn’t political, as he’s evidently much too smart not to know what he’s flirting with, particularly in his last two movies (I haven’t seen the Puppet Master instalment he wrote, but enough people have cited it as a sealing the deal on his views, that it would suggest, as a Jewish filmmaker, he really is a troll supreme).

Certainly, when Laurie Holden (as Gibson’s MS-suffering wife) comments “You know, I never thought I was racist before living in this area” and their teenage daughter (Jordan Ashley Olsen) experiences continued harassment from black kids, Zahler’s pushing very clear buttons; the question becomes, to what end? The same with Vaughn, and the aforementioned racist innuendo during a meeting with Don Johnson’s police chief.

And even if you’re crediting Zahler with nuance, it’s impossible not to get a mixed message from Mel being suspended for using undue force on a Hispanic suspect (he was filmed) and the subsequent speechifying whereby being “branded a racist in today’s public forum is like being accused of communism in the 50s” and “There’s certainly nothing hypocritical about the media handling every perceived intolerance with complete and utter intolerance”. That sounds like Zahler responding to his critics, rather than following where his characters take him.

He’s also very deliberately loading his dice, sympathy wise – Gibson and Vaughn aren’t bent cops by nature, as Kittles assumes when their paths eventually cross; they’re “forced” into it by circumstances (now, you might argue that, if Gibson hadn’t been excessive in the first place, none of this would have happened, and again, you’d be crediting Zahler with allowing his characters to chart their courses in non-judgemental ways). We spend more time with Gibson and Vaughn on stakeout than anyone else, so of course we’re supposed to get to know and like them, but again, that may be Zahler’s intent in asking his audience whether they want to reach broad conclusions. Notably, he doesn’t ask us to get to know Thomas Kretschmann and his duo of masked assassins, who are more expressly and overtly racist and sociopathic.

Zahler more than takes his time with the picture, unnecessarily so, I think, as ultimately one doesn’t feel it needed such an extended canvas, but he’s also remarkably confident and assured in his telling, a master of the slow-burn narrative; the tension sustained during the final confrontation between cops and robbers is almost unbearable, and you can’t really argue with his decision to include regular Jennifer Carpenter in a vignette as a new mother who can’t bear to be apart from her new born and must go back to work when it’s so affecting (again, her speechifying about staying at home is somewhat ungainly, and might be construed as deeply conservative in design). On the other hand, I’ve never had much time for Zahler’s gore-hound instincts – they’re as much of a red flag as his being a metal-head, unfair of me as that may be – and I tend to the view that such indulgences do the subplot a disservice, since the main takeaway from Carpenter’s appearance is the shlock of her fingers and then head being blown off.

The cast are all top notch. Vaughn’s very much doing his laidback Vaughn thing, while Mel (in only his second cop role since Martin Riggs, I think) brings the expected intensity to bear. Kittles is contrastingly a model of measured restraint (witness his scene calming down nervy partner Michael Jai White), less showy than his more famous co-stars but leaving a more lasting impression. As a piece of filmmaking and as a crime thriller, Dragged Across Concrete is an impressive piece of work. Whatever Zahler is saying with it may at times be less so, and I may end up with hindsight wish I hadn’t been so generous with not leaping to assumptions in that regard. But then, I said much the same thing about Brawl in Cell Block 11.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.