* * * 1/2
Evoking the epic, character-driven, melancholic, detailed procedural structure and tone of Michael Mann’s Heat, the gritty urban racial dynamic of David Ayer’s End of Watch and Dark Blue (as writer), and the central political orientation of Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, S. Craig Zahler’s massively ambitious crime drama Dragged Across Concrete is a supremely well crafted piece of genre auteurism. It’s thoroughly solid in the delivery of its very specific intentions; whether you want such a product – a two hour thirty-eight minute throwback to the aforementioned films, featuring a central role for Mel Gibson that seems designed to obliquely comment on his public fall from grace – is up to you.
Initially, the film dares you to like it. It’s slow in the beginning, and an early scene, involving Gibson as a 59 year old New Jersey cop, Vince Vaughn as his much younger partner, and Don Johnson as their superior, seems designed to provoke your PC best intentions; later – at the 52 minute mark – Gibson delivers a speech, essentially cribbed from Dirty Harry, that is so your grandfather’s idea of heroic identity, and quite Ayn Rand / libertarian / Dirty Harry-fascistic, seeming to put the film squarely on the dinosaur’s side. And maybe that’s where Zahler’s politics lie. But once that speech is done, the film locks into a spectacularly polished gear which is totally compelling. Magically, the rest of the film – the length of most ordinary films – is one incredible, nail-biting sequence.
There is plenty of dark humour that is a little overly self-aware, including one moment where Gibson’s character is goaded to say the “N” word and instead parries defiantly. That may be too on the nose for you; it was a little for me. But for all its John Wayne jingoism, there’s no denying the skill of Zahler’s filmmaking nor the immense entertainment value of his film.