Dragged Across Concrete director defends his controversial police drama

Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson in Dragged Across Concrete
(Image credit: Studiocanal)

After Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99, writer-director S. Craig Zahler is back with a near-three-hour epic, Dragged Across Concrete. “I wanted to do a big-scale crime piece,” admits the pony-tailed director, who immediately references Sidney Lumet’s 1981 corrupt cop drama Prince Of The City as a major influence. “I’ve probably watched that movie 25 times; that was a big one for me since childhood.”  Dragged features Brawl… star Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson as two cops caught in a media firestorm after a video of them using excessive force goes viral. Already it’s been heavily critiqued in some quarters; the Daily Beast branded it a “vile, racist, right-wing fantasy”, with the film depicting aggression towards women and minorities. “I’m not making this movie to make a political point,” argues Zahler, who is unapologetic for creating these controversial characters. 

In particular, Gibson’s veteran Ridgeman, who thinks nothing of robbing drug dealers when he’s been suspended without pay. “I’m comfortable with the idea that there are people that may never like him. All of the things that he does in the movie make sense, at least they do to me. But I’m OK if you don’t like him. And I’m OK if you don’t like Anthony, his partner, played by Vince. Certain people are going to relate to them more than others and certain people are going to be really put off by what they do.”

Cop Land

Zahler says he’s interested in exploring what makes these cops tick. Is it years on the beat that’s turned them into these troubled men? “It certainly doesn’t come from a place of wanting to condemn police officers, nor saying that these are flawless people who don’t make mistakes,” he argues. “In law enforcement, you’re exposed to a lot of bad stuff and that doesn’t mean that you’re going to make the right decisions every day of your life. It’s a hard job. I wouldn’t want to do it.”  

The fact that Zahler cast Gibson, who was caught delivering anti-Semitic slurs during a 2006 DUI arrest, only adds to the film’s incendiary nature. Did Gibson or Vaughn have any hesitation about taking on the roles? “They were right on board,” answers Zahler. “I remember seeing him [Gibson] talking to some of the executives who were working on the movie, saying, ‘I have not really ever done a role like this before.’”

The director is now planning some downtime before delivering his next film, an adaptation of his own 2018 novel, Hug Chickenpenny: The Panegyric Of An Anomalous Child. “A gothic orphan tale”, with nods to The Elephant Man, the Muppets’ Jim Henson Company are behind it. “Very different than my first three films,” he chirps. The mind boggles.

Dragged Across Concrete opens in the UK on 19 April and is out now in the US. This article first appeared in our sister publication Total Film magazine. Pick up a copy now or save up to 58% on a print and digital subscription so you never miss an issue.

Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.