There’s a large section of the worldwide film-going audience who have no idea that S Craig Zahler exists. Bone Tomahawk, Riot in Cell Block 99 and Dragged Across Concrete all made an impact on critics and cult movie fans alike, but that mainstream breakthrough has proved elusive. But it will come; if you know anyone who claims to be bored with CGI, feels that modern films are not tough or realistic, and yearns for the days of Sam Peckinpah or Don Siegel, then advise them to buckle up, because S. Craig Zahler is going to be right up their alley. Dragged Across Concrete is a heist-gone-wrong movie that should leave viewers feeling as if they’ve been dragged across concrete; that 159 minute run-time is gruelling, but also exhilarating. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are two cops who get suspended by boss Lt Calvert (Don Johnson) for police brutality. Ridgeman (Gibson) has financial difficulties, and an armoured car robbery is mooted as one way out of the hole. Meanwhile Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) exits the slammer to find a changed world; unwisely, he signs up to be part of Ridgeman’s crew. Although Dragged Across Concrete is deliberately slow, it locates most of the drama within the action of the heist itself, making the action absorbing and frequently painful to watch; Zahler is clearly fascinated by violence, but he’s alert to the moral decay around it, and links each character in a series of death-grips that extend to the final scene. Udo Kier, Thomas Kretschmann and Fred Melamed contribute some short but telling cameos, and the whole vibe has a bleak, early 70’s vibe. Dragged Across Concrete is a tough, nasty crime-story, a jet-black shot of urban mayhem that should thrill even the most jaded thrill-seeker.
Peter Hyams is a director with quite a body of big-budget studio work behind him, from Capricorn One to Outland; a hit tv movie sent him on a six month research spree at the LAPD and led to his writing and directing this early work, a strikingly small-scale and down-at-heel view of police-work. Elliott Gould, sporting a handlebar moustache, and Robert Blake are the cops who shake-down various low-lives on their way to confrontation with gangster Rizzi (Allen Garfield). An early scene in which the cops enjoy the beating up of men in a gay bar sets the unpleasant tone, but that scabrous honesty is what Busting is about; post MASH and throughout the 70’s, there was a general enthusiasm for depicting the moral confusion and general squalor of life, and the nihilistic workings of the police force made an ideal cross-section in films like Fuzz or The Choirboys. Hyams supercharges his story with a couple of stunning foot-chases, one leading into a brutal market gunfight, and the leads are just right for the abrasive feel. Busting was the kind of US import the BBC used to cheerfully show on a Sunday evening; in portraying life as a steaming cess-pit of prostitution, homophobia and general degradation, Busting lays the old, familiar story out before television and Starsky and Hutch in particular, could sanitize it for resale.