Dragged Across Concrete – Offside
Too dark, too unclassifiable, too ambiguous, S. Craig Zahler’s film
is maybe the best of the year, but it directly comes out in DVD.
Why? How? We look at the question from all angles.
By Caroline Veunac
Reading time 6 min.
Why didn’t Dragged Across Concrete, S. Craig Zahler’s third film, get to be released into theatres? Because it hurts. Really hurts. Two cops, Brett (Mel Gibson), an old hand, and Anthony (Vince Vaughn), his less well-aged partner are suspended because of their heterodox methods, and they get it into their head, in order to offset their suspension without pay, to intercept the robbery’s hoard executed by Henry, an ex-convict concerned to improve his family’s living conditions. From this classical crime film argument, Zahler turns his film into a relentless Funeral March, with brutal scenes such as heads exploding and eviscerations.
A real nightmare for marketing representatives.
Things always come in threes: Bone Tomahawk (2016) and Section 99 (2017), the previous ones, was also distributed under the table. Yet in light of the critical excitation the films have created, and the cult of Zahler himself, puzzling heavy metal drummer/ novelist/ director, we thought this film would have been screened in theatres.
But, Dragged Across Concrete is an unclassifiable object, hard to market. Just like with the western in Bone Tomahawk and the prison film in Section 99, Zahler uses codified genres to push them towards horror, flirting with bis cinema, in a wrapping made of auteur cinema… In short, a real nightmare for marketing representatives. Long film (2h30), slow rhythm, litterary dialogues and theatrical asides (Zahler allows himself a mini-film in the film). Paradoxically, what makes Dragged Across the Concrete commercially problematic is also what makes it the kind of film whose author can be famous because he’s marginal. But no, French film distributor Metropolitan FilmExport, chooses to let the film remain confidential among film lovers and during VOD nights. Considerating the audience of Les Halles’ UGC Ciné Cité was not ready for that.
The fact that Dragged Across Concrete is not to be seen by everyone is not subject to debate, and the under 18 restriction that threatened the director can also explain the choice not to project it onto the screens. It is no coincidence that Too Old To Die Young, last Nicolas Winding Refn’s last “film”, similar in terms of violence and slowness, is actually a show for Amazon.
Mel Gibson banned from Hollywood
Yet, Dragged Across Concrete is nothing but cinema. Among the torrent of violence in a lot of films that received their screen certificate, the violence in Dragged Across Concrete is the expression of a cinematic language carefully elaborated. From the work on the colour palette to framing inducing the most complete ambiguity (the image of an hostage crawling towards us without knowing if he must be killed or saved will stick to the brain), the film inserts violence in a dialogue of images which are a matter of reflection.
Zahler shares with Tarantino his predilection for chatting – we necessarily think about it when we see our two angelenos cops badmouth at a diner’s table or in their car. But these explosions of violence are looking for something more than the visual excitation generated by the director of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. When it comes to dialogues and blood, there’s something less pop and more formal, which comes under political dimension more than aesthetics pulsion.
But what political dimension precisely? There’s the rub. With these two reactionary cops complaining about scum and men, Dragged Across Concrete walks on the line of ideological politeness. Who knows which indignations would have provoked the film if it had come out in theatres? It must be said that casting Mel Gibson (Mad Max, Brave Heart, Lethal Weapon…), banned from Hollywood after his anti-Semitic words, and Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers, The Break-Up, True Detective : season 2…), manifest defendant of possession of firearms, as main characters didn’t make it easier.
In Black and White
Dragged Across Concrete is also concerned about repugnant American society’s subconscious, sexism and racism. Yet, the two cops are never made heroes because they are white, nor because they are men. It’s quite the contrary: we watch them get caught up into their lethal stupidity. And the blach character (played by the former karate champion Michael Jai White) will turn out to be the most clever of them all. But at what cost?…
The ultimate beauty of this great film? Never give in to pessimism, despite misanthropy. The characters, up to their idiocy and cupidity, are ennobled by the nearly Elizabethan language they express themselves in, blacks and whites, and humanized by the social violence they are both actors and victims of. Underpaid cops deprived of treatment because the law of street stole their soul from them, outsiders who become criminals so as to thwart social determinism… As a gloomy farce and putrid crime fiction, we attend the universal tragedy of individuals crushed by capitalism, which condemn people who want to be happy to chase after money. Until this fake happy end, in the luxury of a dream villa on the seaside, predation prevails over humanity. Too awkward, too desperate, too hopeless… In a few words: impossible to be projected.
- Mel Gibson
- S. Craig Zahler