*. I can’t be entirely sure, but I’m willing to guess that Dragged Across Concrete spends more time looking through the front windshield of various vehicles than any other movie ever made. It’s 159 minutes long and I think 45 minutes of that, at least, is looking at characters sitting in their cars.
*. It shouldn’t work, since such a limitation on the action suggests that the movie will be leaning heavily on dialogue, and the talk here isn’t good. The characters we meet are mostly types, of an overly-drawn sentimental type. Flawed heroes, or tough guys with a human streak. Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) has a wife at home with multiple sclerosis. Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) has a little brother at home in a wheelchair. Some reviewers were surprised that so much time was given over to Jennifer Carpenter’s character (a new mom with a baby back at home), but she’s just another, even more sympathetic example of the same type.
*. The emotionless killer is another cliché, but I like how Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann) is presented here. We never get a good look at his face, and his voice, even without being altered, sounds like something automated. Then again, none of the characters show a lot of emotion. Their lack of affect goes along with the sense of a constant, brooding focus throughout.
*. Throw in a wildly improbable bank robbery that falls out in a violent struggle over the stolen gold and you’ve got a movie that should barely be watchable at this length. It’s much to the credit of writer-director S. Craig Zahler then that Dragged Across Concrete is this absorbing. The climactic battle in what appears to be a wrecking yard is actually quite suspenseful and compelling, with several surprising twists. That Zahler, as you’ll probably know by now, is in no rush to get to the end adds to its fascination. As with many “slow film” movies (a label I wouldn’t apply here), I found myself wondering why so many shots and scenes were being held or kept going as long as they were. But once you give up thinking about the why you’re only left with the how it will all wind up.
*. One partial explanation for why it works is that while the story and characters are clichés nothing comes across as inauthentic. Ridgeway and his partner Anthony (Vince Vaughn) probably would be like a couple of TV cops in real life. And since stakeouts are, I am told, excruciatingly boring, it’s neat how that boredom is evoked through the bitching over trivial irritations like snoring, munching loudly on food, bad breath, the use of hairspray, or even just the sound of breathing (“processing air”). This sense of brooding focus that I mentioned is reflective. Just as the characters are focused on their mission, or their targets, so we are zeroed in on them. We can’t look away from that windshield because there’s nowhere else to look.
*. Zahler also does a good job directing Gibson, getting him to tone down on his more exaggerated and annoying mannerisms, like his trademark twitchiness and rolling eyes. You still know you’re watching Mel, but he’s not as loud as he usually is and that’s a good thing. Even his lines, whether being offensive or trying to be humorous, are underplayed, making his character more credible.
*. I certainly did not like the fairy-tale ending. How did the sole survivor manage to fence all that gold? It couldn’t have been easy. And really, are we talking all that much money? And his moving on up to that kind of lifestyle didn’t raise any suspicions? Why swerve from the rest of the film’s realism so much for such a ridiculous coda?
*. The coda also quickly dismisses what I take to be the film’s theme, which is all about strong men who are failures at just about everything. Including staying alive. As with Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, heroes are ultimately swallowed up by violence (literally in Bone Tomahawk and only slightly metaphorically here). It’s a grim take on the action genre that gets blown away at the end.
*. Critics were a bit divided. Those who didn’t like it complained about the pacing (and so had a lot of fun playing with the title), but for me the pacing is what it was all about, what made it work. Looking back on it I can’t say it’s a movie I want to see again anytime soon, but I enjoyed the drag.