DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE (2019, S. Craig Zahler)
Zahler’s MO across his first three features is firmly established and reliable: he takes his time establishing character, paints a bleak world of unjust randomness, and watches as the carnage begins. Unfortunately with this one, the returns have diminished a bit — the script is so mannered and obvious that the characters feel more like mouthpieces than ever.
The actors (many very good) still fumble over clunky syntax that would read much better on the page. Conversations feel like reactionary op-eds rather than natural dialogue. And the stabs at colorful character development come across more forced than ever — I’m thinking of Vaughn saying “anchovies” whenever he’d ordinarily curse; Gibson always estimating probabilities as percentages; and the worst offense is a sadistic tangent establishing Carpenter’s brief role as a mother with postpartum depression solely to make sure her peril during the bank robbery carries weight. Do we need to know a woman is a new mother with a baby sock in her pocket to value her life?
Aside from the script’s relative inability to translate smoothly to the screen, Zahler’s other strengths still come through in valuable ways. He makes the political topics thorny. Race is an issue until it isn’t. Dirty cops aren’t easily demonized nor valorized. The jokes land. He even shows restraint with the gore in places his earlier films never did. (Granted, it’s still graphically violent, but I can imagine a much worse cut from the two-years-ago-Zahler of CELL BLOCK). I’m a fan of Zahler’s tone, pace, and world view. If some succeed better than others, that’s okay – as long as a financier is willing to grant him the ability to exhibit a bloody two-plus-hour exploitation drama every couple years, without the interference of a studio or test audiences to water it down.