I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE
Rated R, 159 minutes.
Director: S. Craig Zahler
Cast: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Thomas Kretschmann, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Fred Melamed, Udo Kier and Don Johnson
S. Craig Zahler (BONE TOMAHAWK, BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99) has quickly become one of my favorite working filmmakers. Like his characters, he operates under his own set of rules and doesn’t hold back one bit. He doesn’t seem to care if you find his films too nasty or brutal. He just wants to elicit a response and expose you to the raw, merciless side of the world. And though the length of his films may put your butt to sleep, every second is crucial to the rich sprawling narratives he plans to shock you with.
His latest masterstroke, DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE, is his best film yet – and BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 is one of my favorite movies of the past five years. And like that film, DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE has an incredible ensemble cast. Jennifer Carpenter, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Laurie Holden, Udo Kier, and Don Johnson, among others, all make appearances. Each actor has a significant role to play to serve the greater good of the story, but it’s Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn that run the show.
Gibson and Vaughn play two inquisitive cops whose sometimes-ruthless methods get them in trouble. But it’s their last bust that gives them the boot, as the pair are caught on video getting too aggressive with a Hispanic man in order to get some information. The sticky situation doesn’t make the force look too good, so the partners are suspended for six weeks with no pay.
Gibson’s seasoned cop character, Brett Ridgeman, tell his lieutenant (Don Johnson), in an understanding tone: “Politics as always.” To which the lieutenant replies: “Like cellphones, politics are everywhere.” (It certainly heightens the level of intrigue with Gibson playing this role, given his past.)
In order to make up for their loses, Ridgeman and Vaughn’s Anthony Lurasetti decide to embark on a dangerous journey into the criminal underworld. This involves heists, guns and lots and lots of blood. Go figure; it’s a Zahler film.
Aside from the sprawling structure, it’s Zahler’s sharp-to-the-touch dialogue that makes his films engaging front to back. It’s like imagining Aaron Sorkin writing a gritty crime noir, or a less cartoonish Quentin Tarantino. There are many scenes throughout where characters are talking to each other, but all the conversations are fascinating commentaries about our world. Whether it’s Ridgeman and Lurasetti discussing if the singer on the radio is a boy or girl, or throwing out percentages of the likelihood of their survival, Zahler’s writing (and how the actors deliver them) is fit to study. There’s a rough edge and a truth to his words.
His characters are fully realized, too. Even the smallest of parts, such as Jennifer Carpenter’s banker character. She’s featured in a heartbreaking extended sequence where she’s fighting her return to work after her maternity leave is over. She’s about to get on a bus to her work, but then quickly goes back home to ask her husband if she can touch her three-month-old son through the door crack. It feels like a scene that is just dropped into the film for no reason, but then you realize that it’s Zahler subtly laying down some groundwork that will come in handy later. It’s all about completely enveloping you into this story’s wickedness.
Then, there are the great action scenes and intensity. Similar to BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, this film is a slow burner that leaves scars. Zahler builds up the tension like an EDM DJ ready to drop the proverbial bass. When it hits, the results don’t disappoint. Our emotions run all over the gamut. You’ll cry, be frustrated, shocked and thrilled.
DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE is a dynamite third film from Zahler, and one of the year’s very best so far.
I strongly recommend catching it at the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff this weekend, specifically on Friday at 7 p.m., because it will include a special producer Q&A with Dallas-based film studio Cinestate. Encore screenings are on Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m., and Thursday, March 28 at 9:30 p.m. Visit thetexastheatre.com for more information on the screenings and tickets.