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Dragged Across Concrete

This is my piece about being torn between loving S. Craig Zahler’s movies and being grossed out by the worldview they seem to represent. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I’ve been waiting for DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE with a new emotion I call antici-dread. On one hand, it’s writer-director Zahler’s followup to BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, maybe my favorite movie of 2017. On the other hand, it’s his ode to racist cops and I’m starting to worry that my love for Zahler’s right-up-my-alley tone and filmatism has made me too quick to brush off questions about his fascination with casual racism and anti-heroes brutalizing minorities to protect the white women.

I really like BONE TOMAHAWK and BRAWL, and I’m not entirely convinced by some of the interpretations of them I’ve heard. But I got nervous when producer Dallas Sonnier (who has also done very good work, from managing Stone Cold Steve Austin to resurrecting Fangoria) did a press tour about his company Cinestate’s “populist” movies – code for “quiet 2+ hour slow burn niche art movies with occasional bursts of extreme gore” – saying they appeal to a “neglected audience” in “the age of Trump.” Asked about BRAWL receiving “4 out of 5 swastikas” from a white supremacist reviewer, Sonnier was only quoted with a less than forceful, “The reactions that come from them, we can’t control.”

I sure hope it’s all a big wacky misunderstanding, but to me it seems suspiciously like a “very fine people on both sides” marketing strategy. Then Zahler rebooted PUPPET MASTER to be about funny puppet hate crimes, and off-handedly referred to GET OUT as “manure” with no explanation in his Fangoria column, and at some point you gotta acknowledge a pattern even if it’s gonna fuck with your enjoyment of singular, committed, badass crime stories.

My friend Matt Lynch predicted I would love DRAGGED but that it wouldn’t answer my questions about Zahler’s world view. Almost right. I think it’s a great crime movie, and that I was right to worry.

Mel Gibson (BLOOD FATHER) and Vince Vaughn (PSYCHO) play Ridgeman and Lurasetti, who are videotaped stepping on drug dealer Noel G’s head, get suspended without pay, and decide they need to rob a criminal named Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann, BLADE II) to get where they want to in life. Which involves alot of following and staking out and since it’s Zahler there’s a scene where we just watch Ridgeman sadly watch Lurasetti eat a sandwich for a couple minutes straight. And it works. The fictional city of Bulwark (north of Springfield) is an off-kilter, lived-in world with stylized dialogue, dark humor, and pacing that crawls along with such confident lack of urgency it almost feels like a joke on the audience… while still working like gangbusters on me.

One thing that plot description leaves out is that you don’t even see those minority-beating anti-heroes until ten minutes in, because the movie starts and ends with a black man. Tory Kittles (FRANKENFISH) plays Henry Johns – whose name is a reference to STEEL in my opinion, not John Henry – and who is the closest thing to a hero in the movie. That’s good news, but let’s not start passing out the NAACP Image Awards quite yet. First of all, he disappears for another 20 minutes, and you don’t see him much in the middle as he prepares to do a job for the same mysterious guy Ridgeman and Lurasetti are following. If this is PULP FICTION (which it reminds me of in a good way), he’s at best Butch to their Jules and Vincent. Second, he’s an ex-con, introduced having sex with a prostitute (Vivian Ng, A DOG NAMED CHRISTMAS), then stopping his junkie mother (could not find in credits) from prostituting herself while his little brother (Myles Truitt, young Ronnie DeVoe from THE NEW EDITION STORY) is in the house. I’m not saying I don’t like characters like this, or that it’s not awesome that when he chases the john away with a baseball bat he also makes him take out the garbage. But his home life is out of a Lee Daniels movie, while the white people get normal working class. Zahler doesn’t give them John Waters or Rob Zombie. That’s worth noting.

As with BRAWL, I love DRAGGED’s quiet, drawn out style, with virtually no score, and more soul tunes with weird Zahler lyrics but performed by the O’Jays and Butch Tavares, like dusty b-sides piped in from another dimension. What the hell kind of song title is “Street Corner Felines”? Zahler also composed some jazz instrumentals that Lurasetti listens to in his car.

There’s less of the shocking violence (but one insane sequence that’ll get ya – wish I hadn’t had it spoiled because it’s kind of the highlight) and you can’t really call it an action movie, though there are some heart-poundingly grounded bursts of gun violence and such. I will note, since no other critic would, that stunt coordinator Lauro Chartrand directed Steven Seagal’s BORN TO RAISE HELL and 3 episodes of True Justice. (This is much better than those.)

I’ll probly watch this a second time and be less hung up on the race issues, but jesus. It would feel negligent to just let it go. Sometimes it feels like some Bizarro World pro-racism version of CRASH. Just like the video that calls attention to some of Ridgeman’s bad policing, Zahler wrote two scenes here that will set off every racism alarm in a five mile radius. #1 is when their boss Lieutenant Calvert (Don Johnson, COLD IN JULY) suspends them, making it clear that it’s only for PR, and launches into this totally not awkward little homily:

“Like cellphones, and just as annoying, politics are everywhere. Being branded a racist in today’s public forum is like being accused of communism in the ’50s. Whether it’s a possibly offensive remark made in a private phone call or the indelicate treatment of a minority who sells drugs to children, the entertainment industry, formerly known as the news, needs villains.”

[actual quote]

It’s hard not to take that as a statement of the author’s views when it sounds like… a statement of an author’s views, and not words that come naturally out of a human’s mouth. So you want to debate it. These guys aren’t “branded racist.” They straight up are racist. And they weren’t just “indelicate” to the drug dealer. Nobody ever brings up that Ridgeman also taunted, poured cold water on and lied to the suspect’s naked, deaf, immigrant girlfriend (Liannet Borrego, The Last Ship) even after calling her a victim in all this.

Zahler says he just writes from the point of view of his characters, he’s not making political statements. The first half of that claim I can respect. I love a story that stays true to a really good bad-person character, like WOLF OF WALL STREET or YOUNG ADULT or some of my favorite Charles Willeford books like Cockfighter, The Woman Chaser or The Burnt Orange Heresy. But I don’t think it’s entirely up in the air what you should think of those characters.

I can only hope that, despite Zahler’s claims, the gutpunch of going-too-far scene #2 is intentional. Ridgeman’s otherwise sympathetic, M.S.-suffering wife (Laurie Holden, Andrea from The Walking Dead) suddenly recites what sounds like a passage from the unpublished plays of David Duke: “You know, I never thought I was a racist before living in this area. I’m about as liberal as any ex-cop could ever be, but now…” And then goes on to argue that, since kids in this black neighborhood bullied their daughter (Jordyn Ashley Olson, COP AND A HALF: NEW RECRUIT) by pouring a soda on her, it stands to reason that soon they will rape her. So Ridgeman’s motive for the heist is to prevent this definitely-gonna-happen rape by having enough money to move away from the kids who forced the poor, liberal Ridgemans to reluctantly become racist. Damn you, the blacks, for giving them no choice. They didn’t ask for this.

If this scene is really not meant to be political, I got a problem with that. You’re telling me you don’t care if we take a stance on this one way or another? I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the person who writes that shit to at least think, “Man, I would feel kinda bad if people agreed with that character.” It’s not selling out to be able to pass a basic, you’d-have-to-be-a-total-shitbag-to-fail-it morality test.

Sometimes “I’m not political” really means “my politics will bum you out.” Because then Zahler creates a world that supports the Ridgemans’ racial paranoia. The black teens in the neighborhood do harass the daughter for no reason. Ridgeman also sees them break into a place across the street while he’s out for a smoke. Even sort-of-moral-center-of-the-movie-Henry (again, ex-con bank robbing son of a junkie prostitute) is sympathetic to Ridgeman’s (admittedly not described to him in racial terms) worries about his daughter, as if they’re reasonable.

And there are two details that strike me as bullshit. One, that stepping on Noel G’s head gets him suspended without pay, while in real life we see incident after incident of police killing unarmed, innocent people and being suspended with pay. Two, that his “shit wages” force him to live in this “shit neighborhood,” while we see officers from far outside of the neighborhoods coming in treating them like occupied territory. Sure, both things could happen, but choosing the unlikely ones and using them as his primary motivation – that seems loaded. That seems political.

If you find Gibson’s presence in movies offensive you’re gonna find his presence here offensive, but he’s very good playing this bitter burn out, and brings some humanity to a character who’s kinda written as a piece of shit. Same with Vaughn, even if playing more of a standard Vaughn character seems a little anticlimactic after his towering bruiser performance in BRAWL.

If you step back a little, there’s a standard cop movie plot here: they get suspended, but go after criminals on their own. Usually that would mean obsessing over a case instead of a disastrous heist. But it can’t help but play as a commentary on other cop movies. Ridgeman loves to self-mythologize about being the analog messiah of political incorrectness charging mightily through the red tape gauntlet of the digital snowflakes. “I don’t politic, I don’t change with the times, and it turns out that shit’s more important than good, honest work,” he humblebrags. At times his justifications sound like he’s paraphrasing DIRTY HARRY, a great movie with a viewpoint that was already called fascist in 1971 and was interrogated and complicated in many sequels and further Eastwood films, followed by decades of evolution in the public understanding of these issues in part sparked by the prevalence of the sort of video evidence of race-based police brutality referenced in DRAGGED. His tell-it-like-it-is wisdom is archaic cowboy movie bullshit.

I see another more positive meta-reading: Gibson and Johnson play former partners who took different career paths. At their pop cultural peaks these actors played super cool, kinda crazy cops with more by-the-book black partners. Without that grounding influence they grew into old cranks who are okay with beating up suspects and nudge nudge what’s a little racism between just us fellas. But Calvert, who was able to become the boss and doesn’t have to live in Shit Neighborhood, at least notices that Ridgeman went too far in that beating. Maybe Ridgeman should change with the times and/or politic, if that means “be a little less fascist.”

(Zahler insists he didn’t write the movie with Gibson or LETHAL WEAPON in mind.)

One great part of the movie is practically a short film on its own that introduces an emotionally fragile woman (Jennifer Carpenter, BATTLE IN SEATTLE) having a hard time returning to work for the first time after an extended maternity leave, only to become a victim in the robbery. I love that Zahler (much like Tarantino) takes a novelistic digression to invest us in the life of what is technically a very minor character in the story. But it’s weird that we get almost as much on her as on Henry.

Somewhere off screen in a movie that likes black people it’s more apparent that Henry and his partner – the great Michael Jai White (NEVER BACK DOWN 2: THE BEATDOWN) playing a character unfortunately named Biscuit – are parallels to the two cops. They too are doing what they think they need to do to improve circumstances for their families, and Biscuit seems to be the Ridgeman who talked Henry into it, although we don’t see that happen. This 158 minute movie doesn’t have much time to establish them or show them eating a sandwich, though late in the movie Biscuit does get to reminisce about liking dinosaurs as a kid. You could argue that they’re the heroes of the movie, yet I’m not sure they get more screen time than Vogelmann’s crew of rarely seen characters who wear masks and disguise their voices.

Unsurprisingly, White is great in the movie. It’s a non-fighting role (like THE DARK KNIGHT) and much too small, but he’s outstanding in the scene where he drives the the escape vehicle and seethes about what they’re doing to a hostage in the back. It’s around this point in the movie when we start to see that Vogelmann’s crew are the most racist and psychotic characters in the movie (congratulations, cops), and Henry and Biscuit have more of a conscience than any of them.

I mean… tell your story how you want to, but personally I prefer for it to be earlier than 2 hours into a movie when I get to think “Okay, I can see an argument for this not being totally racist.”

On the other hand I do like the delay in showing us that Lurasetti’s girlfriend Denise (Tattiawna Jones, TULLY) is black. She asks him “Did you guys beat up any minorities today?” (I would argue that just teasing him about it is not enough) and is the source of the saying he uses to assert intellectual superiority over Ridgeman. And I like that Mr. Tough Talk has a bunch of framed jazz posters in his apartment. These things force you to go back over everything and wonder if any of your assumptions were wrong. (And also what Denise would make of his joke about Martin Luther King Day.)

Lurasetti was reluctant about all this, so is he of a more evolved generation, being dragged down by his older partner? Or is this a sign that even a guy trying to pass himself as more complicated and enlightened is likely to be a piece of shit anyway when he gets together with the fellas? There is nuance and contradiction here. I just wish it came in an amount that feels more like the point of the movie and less like ass-covering. You know I was just jokin around about some of that stuff, right guys?

To Zahler it’s probly more of an aesthetic than an ideology. In PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH there’s discussion of Jews who collect Nazi memorabilia. In a 2018 interview with metal outlet Riotfest, he defends casting Gibson by saying that as a critic for Metal Maniacs he gave positive reviews to the bands Destroyer 666 and Grand Belial’s Key (who I think he’s implying are anti-semitic) even though he’s of Jewish heritage. “My philosophy has always been ‘art over politics,'” he says. And I really think him being a metalhead – he also has a band called Realmbuilder, and “claims to purchase up to 200 metal albums per year” according to the article – explains some of his attitude. In my experience, most people into pentagrams, goatheads and fantasy painting massacres do not actually worship the devil. They just get a charge out of the morbid transgression. There’s a similar tendency to try to make your exploitation legit by having characters say despicable things the writer hopefully doesn’t agree with (again I must bring up Tarantino and Zombie).

But that can be its own thing that I don’t like either, a smug flippancy toward suffering and injustice you haven’t been a victim of, a rejection of the responsibility to care about your fellow humans that is not absolved by “Oh, I don’t follow politics” or “It’s just entertainment” or “I came up with this story about racist police beatings before the most recent racist police beatings.”

I guess that’s what it comes down to. You don’t care, I think people who don’t care are assholes. And sometimes assholes make good movies and sometimes enjoying them makes me feel like an asshole.

It is my stance that art can be ugly and it can be uncomfortable and nobody is censoring you and this is in fact a good movie. But also that being provocative without having an opinion is not something to be proud of. If you think blithely racist police abusing minorities is just an interesting thing to put out there without any meaning then you are not equipped with the minimum level of benevolence I prefer in a fellow occupant of the earth. I dearly hope that one day your compassion grows to equal your gifts as an artist.

Further reading:

K. Austin Collins’ review in Vanity Fair really gets at some things I found frustrating while not being entirely negative.

The Ringer‘s Zahler profile by Scott Tobias is quite good.

Also, @oldmanbardas88 on Twitter directed me to what he accurately called the “rabbit hole” of Zahler’s IMDb movie ratings, which add many new data points to the “Things that make you say hmmmm” file. As you’d expect, low ratings for GET OUT and BLACKkKLANSMAN. 5 for the anti-Nazi GREEN ROOM, which otherwise would seem up his alley. I don’t know if it’s fair to interpret the meaning of someone giving 7s to TRIUMPH OF THE WILL and BIRTH OF A NATION, and a predictable 4 for BLACK PANTHER is mitigated by 5s for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2 and even LOGAN – he must be sick of comic book movies. At least he gave a 6 to MOONLIGHT and 7 and 8 to CREED and CREED II, respectively.

Curious: THE REVENANT is one of the 18 films he gave his lowest rating of 2 to. CHILDREN OF MEN is among the 111 he gave a 3. (I don’t think he’s rated any Del Toro.)

Upsetting: He gave a 5 to UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION and DAY OF RECKONING. In his reviews section you can see him go off on UNDISPUTED II and NINJA for having “sped up” fights. He also has quite a rant about Jessica Chastain doing terrible soap opera level acting in ZERO DARK THIRTY.

Unexpected: No joke, he seems to mostly watch anime.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 28th, 2019 at 2:43 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

126 Responses to “Dragged Across Concrete”

  1. That soda-dumping-to-rape logic leap the mom makes in the film made me audibly say “hold on…” alone in my living room.

  2. Oh shit…………

  3. Yeah, this is a tough one to negotiate. He strikes me as the sort of person who uses the phrase “virtue signalling” unironically, and frequently prefaces sentences with “I’m not racist, but….” or “I’m not sexist, but….”. The sort of person who thinks white privilege or male privilege is just a made up thing to bring white men down. Longs for a time when men were men, women were women and everyone knew their role. That’s how it seems to me, based on his work, and based on the things he likes and dislikes on IMDB.

    He wouldn’t be racist on an individual level (people like that seldom are) but would be exactly the sort of person who behaves in ways that uphold racist institutions

  4. How the hell does this guy give Creed II a higher rating than Creed?

  5. Man, I still hope that Zahler is just an edgelord who will grow up at some point. After all it’s better than him being an actual Nazi asshole. BONE TOMAHAWK had this scene, where the intellectual Native American explained that the troglodytes are their own thing and have nothing to do with his people. So either he respects at least American Natives or maybe after that one became a success, he just started to see how far he can push the envelope.

  6. (Just another thought)…it’s the same sort of person we have here in my home city of Christchurch, New Zealand now who strongly (and 100% genuinely) condemns the mass shootings we had at our local mosques 3 weeks ago, but leaps up in outrage at the concept that we might want to change the name of our local rugby team from The Crusaders (you know, with all the murdering of Muslims that the Crusaders perpetrated) because “That’s part of our heritage and you can’t take away our heritage or the terrorists win”. They’re against direct racial attacks, but also entirely against making any sort of compromise to their own lives, their own art, their own leisure activities to accomodate other viewpoints as well.

  7. Since I don’t see anybody in the comments really discussing the movie yet, I’m just here to say that,same with Brawl in cell block 99, I was blown away by it.
    The 158 minutes passed by ferociously. I found it a great crime movie up there with the best of them. I understand how you guys all have problems with the director’s political leanings or the perception of, but I do also think that reading my favourite critic reviewing a movie and have 90% of his writings be about “is the director racist or not” is something that gives me pause. Art is art. We never did this until now with such scrutiny. We usually talked about the quality of a movie.
    I’m sure all of us,Vern included, have seen movies and read (in the case of Vern, written) reviews of them that have a “conservative” leaning. Hell, ALL our favourite movies from the “golden era” for action movies of the 80’s are like that. Are we gonna ‘re evaluate them based on our findings on the director’s voting habits?
    Also, to come back to the movie at hand, the movie does not make a caricature of right/wrong, racist/god guy of anybody. All the characters, at least the 2 white and 2 black ones, have many different layers to them. The police guys don’t discuss the collar that got them in trouble with derogatory words because of his race. They only talk about him being a drug dealer. Also, although they step into an unlawful zone by deciding to rob the bag guys, in the process of it their main concern is saving hostages and not involving civilians.
    Anyway, to end my point: We have seen many, many,MANY movies were the cops are downright racist assholes and don’t take people’s rights seriously. And most of THOSE movies glamourize that and make them as “society’s saviours” who do the dirty work and the law doesn’t help them. This is not really one of those movies. Maybe we should chill out a bit and like, see the movie first and then like, comment on it?

    Love, Petrosmt

  8. I love Cinestate but there is some stuff that has made me raise an eyebrow. However, I have a friend who submitted a pitch to them for a novel that they loved and the book has positive minority characters as the leads and all the white people are the villains and it basically paints corrupts cops and the police in a negative light and black lives matter in a positive light (as it should). So take of that what you will. lol

  9. Is it too much to ask people to not be racist?

  10. Loved Zahler’s previous two movies, and ultimately really liked this one, but I agree with “tough one to navigate.” Lotta uncomfortable elements, like the review goes into, but with just enough nuance to make you squint and wonder what Zahler’s trying to say here, if he’s trying to say anything at all. E.g. Johns is secretly always the smartest guy in the room/car, he gets the ending he gets, and the couple times other characters try to criticize his AAVE they get chastised for it.

    Anyway, the movie’s maybe-endorsement of his politics aside, I really liked the character of Ridgeman. Mel Gibson was great in this. So serious and unflappable, taking every new crazy development in stride, but also dryly funny. Love the delivery of “correct” to the annoyed waitress.

    Vince Vaughn was good, but too old for the role, the script probably should have been modified just a tiny bit when they decided on him. The character was clearly supposed to be younger. Ridgeman hasn’t yet turned 60, and Lusaretti is said to be at least 20 years his junior, probably even younger, and Vaughn is much closer to 50 than 40 and looks it.

  11. Zahler gave Big Trouble in Little China a 3 on IMDB. The man has no soul.

  12. Plastiquehomme, sorry for the possibly empty platitude but I truly hope you and your community are doing okay.

  13. Ugh. This one sounds like too much trouble to be worth it. To the guy up there asking why we can’t just focus on the quality of the movie-making, I say it’s kind of difficult when an author chooses subject matter and an approach to said subject matter that is guaran-fucking-teed to distract from his technical chops. I haven’t had a problem with any of Zahler’s work prior to this, but it’s undeniable that he keeps playing with fire when it comes to racism. That’s his choice. He did that. On purpose. I’m not the one letting politics get in the way. He fucking PUT them in my way and then was all “Why are you hitting yourself?” about it. If he didn’t want people focusing on his politics, he could have made different choices that didn’t make them the center of attention. But he didn’t want to do that. He wanted the attention that came from being edgy and controversial. Negative or positive attention, it didn’t matter. Which is the definition of a troll. Honestly, if I thought he was a sincere racist piece of shit, I’d be more inclined to watch the movie, just to see how someone like that thinks. This half-assed “Is he or isn’t he?” crap is just tiring and immature (not to mention extremely Trumpian) and I’m not sitting through a fucking three-hour movie, even one where Mel Gibson is apparently awesome, just so some edgelord can play coy with white supremacy. I don’t care how assured his camerawork and pacing is. I can make choices, too.

    Be a man and own it or start singing a different tune. This one’s getting old.

  14. Hey, thanks for the thought Renfield. I’m lucky (being a white man) in that I was never in any danger from the attacks, but holy fuck, something like that happening in my community just blows my mind. And now, seeing armed police (our police were never armed until this) patrolling outside mosques, hospitals and the like is really sobering. The community is shocked, but I think for the most part it has actually galvanised the majority of people. The outpouring of love, support and kindness toward the Muslim community has been really inspiring, and the utter lack of bickering between politicians in their response (tougher gun laws are on their way through already) makes me proud. We can’t change what happened, but we can control how we respond, and the response has been positive.

  15. The racial component of the thing didn’t bother me too much. To me it was trying to tap into those ambiguous 70s cop films (the film’s ethos might be summed up in a dialogue exchange from the French Connection about trusting people). I do take issue with the filmatism. Zahler’s appeal continues to elude me. I know some have compared this one to a crime novel but I was reminded of Elmore Leonard’s words the whole time, “Try to leave out the parts the readers tend to skip”. This is like an entire movie made up of those parts. As you can probably guess, I don’t find Zahler’s pacing to be well-used. It doesn’t reveal character depth to show Vince Vaughn eating an entire egg salad sandwich, especially when the characters played by Tory Kittles and Michael Jai White are so short-changed. I get that the pacing, static camera work and lack of music (outside of the terrible diegetic soul music Zahler wrote) are supposed to give a certain air of naturalism, but then it’s ruined by silly, inconsistent dialogue and a nonsensical plot (Mel Gibson’s daughter is bullied so he has to pull a heist instead of, y’know, using his position as a cop to intimidate her tormentors. And don’t get me started on these high-tech, murderous robbers who have to outsource for their getaway drivers for some reason). Not only that, the film is nigh 3 hours and still feels half thought out and underdeveloped. After the film’s insistence on the randomness of violence in this cruel world the happy ending was such corny bullshit it played out like a dream sequence. I swear that Zahler has never figured out what editing or second drafts are. Oh well, Gibson was good at least.

  16. The uncomfortable nature of this one has put me off seeing it in theaters so I’ll have to catch it when the streaming version drops in price, but as for the other things; is anyone REALLY surprised Zahler has such wack tastes in movies? He definitely always came off as the type of person you’d just be confounded by when discussing movies. (I also have to wonder if he’s not actually using 5 stars as the default rating because it sure seems like stuff is skewed pretty low compared to most people’s school-style ratings of a 7 being average.)

    But, god, Destroyer 666 is really not who I would have chosen to go to bat for, if I were in the habit of defending rightwing weenies (which I am not). That said, his taste in metal is pretty good on the whole and doesn’t seem nearly as worrying a ‘rabbit hole’ as the IMDB page. And, hey, it’s always cool to see people enjoy Summoning.

  17. My guess is it indeed an aesthetic thing, some people have morbid fascination with disgusting things, like people who are obsessed with serial killers.

    It’s not an aesthetic I like though, there’s nothing cute about racism.

  18. Well that full metal jacket reference off the jump got me to convince myself to go see this in the theater this weekend before it’s gone.

    I liked but didn’t love BONE TOMAHAWK (FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, for instance, tickled my fancy more in terms of hard tone shifts). And I very much enjoyed BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, but got upset at how the white suprematist element was potentially trojan horsed in. Anybody read any of Zahler’s books? I suspect that’ll be a clearer indication of his attitudes on the shit people are uncomfortable about than films, which the collaborative nature of the medium can more easily obfuscate.

    I guess it’s both awesome and possibly troubling how much he loves Sam Peckinpah from the IMDb ratings I saw. (Troubling in the sense that Peckinpah is a great director, but you can’t exactly pull the same depiction doesn’t equal endorsement and statements the same way that Kubrick, Fincher, and Scorsese can be trickier with those things.) But what the hell, I still love THE WILD BUNCH, even if Re-Animator corpse look alike Steve Bannon also does, and I enjoy plenty of other Peckinpah films.

  19. Yeah actually, I loved BONE TOMAHAWK and BRAWL enough that I wound up checking out one of his books- “A Congregation of Jackals”, which is a western. I liked it, I thought it had a lot in common with his movies (haven’t seen DRAGGED ACROSS COMCRETE yet) in that there was a lot of focus on character development before some big violence in the climax. It had a pretty good hook- basically this gang of old West robbers is all retired and spread out when they all get a letter from one of their old friends saying he’s getting married and that their old enemies have found out about the wedding and are coming to kill him and his wife, so they all decide they have to go try and help.

    In terms of the question “did the book support the idea that Zahler is a white supremicest” I guess I would say no not really in my opinion, but I definitely do think he’s a guy who is really willing to push some hot buttons and has a pretty specific worldview he’s interested in exploring (specifically, that of a stoic tough guy). Like, all the main bad guys are white, but they do some pretty heinous shit to some native folks (though it’s not presented as anything other than horrifying). There’s some other minority characters elsewhere who get positive portrayals.

    If anything, I think it supports the idea that he’s largely only interested in women as they are related to the main male characters- they all kind of reminded me of Jennifer Carpenter in BRAWL.

    I definitely read the book with these same questions in mind, and, like I said earlier, I don’t think I got any definite answer. I guess at this point I think (or hope?) that he’s just a guy with a real old-fashioned sensibility about tough guy crime/westerns.

    I have another of his waiting on my shelf, a cop one called MEAN BUSINESS ON NORTH GANTON STREET that I’ll probably pick up after I watch this new one.

  20. Haven’t seen Dragged yet, but am looking forward to it, since I loved his other two movies.
    Odious politics aside, Zahler sure knows how to create some just brutal and unflinching violence. I picked up his book Wraiths of a Broken Land a few years back, and it was fantastic. Western horror that rises above every possible cliche. Well worth a read, especially if you dig his other stuff.

  21. See, I’m still confused by the praise for Zahler’s aesthetics. Are we so starved for mean, bad-ass movies that we’ll just let this guy’s work slide? Have movies become such empty flash that we’re supposed to get excited about gruff dudes just riding horses or sitting in cars for hours on end?

    Even his much lauded violence is piss-poor. The staging of the end gunfight in Dragged Across Concrete is somehow boring and nonsensical at the same time (Kittles runs out in the open with only a pistol to save White like ten feet from an armored van with slits in it where there are three guys with automatic weapons inside who have already been established as people who would kill him in a millisecond).

    In Bone Tomahawk the cannibals are built up as these unkillable wraiths… until the heroes finally arrive. Then they just run out in the open and get shot down immediately (mostly by a man who has been crippled!).

    In Brawl in Cellblock 99 the camera lingers on gore effects so long that broken arms quickly reveal themselves to be rubber and scraped faces look like cheap Halloween skeleton masks. You make me wait almost 2 1/2 hours of tedium for this shit? At that length, I’d rather rewatch a goddamn Umberto Lenzi movie twice in a row.

    His screenplays are written like a really dumb, really pretentious person’s approximation of Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis (descriptions like, “the moon is a milky cataract of an eye…” Or stitled made-up Old West dialogue like, “you been squirtin lemon juice in my eye since I come in here” ).

    I’ve read The Brigands of Rattlebourge (now retitled Rattlecreek) and I thought it was absolutely terrible (which I can get into, at length, if anyone is interested). I am intrigued about what Chan-wook will do with it but Zahler already talked shit on that prospect, saying that he was disappointed that the director of fucking Oldboy was adapting his screenplay as he thought “it would be hard to get subtle performances through a translator”.

    Anyway, I’m drunk and Zahler’s work just annoys me. He circles around all of my interests but I find each one of his efforts lacking in almost every regard, and the praise he gets baffles me.

    His half-assed race baiting doesn’t surprise me, though. He does everything half-assed in my book.

  22. I’m not sure when Zahler made the transition from “genre guy” to “provocateur,” but seeing that the amount of pixels spent towards him has increased ten-fold, I’d say it’s working out for him.

  23. Congratulations to Noel G. for getting his picture attached to two different paragraphs. I assume that is the henchman character actor equivalent of winning two Oscars in the same year.

  24. Having really enjoyed BRAWL, I decided to explore Zahler’s earlier work, so I watched ASYLUM BLACKOUT and liked it a lot, despite a largely incomprehensible ending, and I read CONGREGATION OF JACKALS, which I also liked despite having some issues with his prose style. AB didn’t have any questionable racial aspects in my recollection, but JACKALS kept going right up to the edge of acceptability with its minority characters. Nothing crossed the line, but I started to wonder WHY he seems to always be pushing these buttons. Why were the Native Americans always either victims or berserkers, never even approaching what you might call fully realized characters? Some of this can be accounted for by the epistolary nature of the segments pertaining to those characters, which would not give much chance for any of them to become more than sketches. But again, that was a choice. Zahler chose to pick a format that allowed these characters to be dehumanized, just like he chose to write BONE TOMAHAWK, a story utilizing all the fear-mongering of Manifest Destiny-era, genocide-justifying propaganda about the violent savages who need to be eradicated in the name of westward expansion, with only the barest feint at justifying itself with a couple of line about how they’re not TECHNICALLY Indians. In isolation, neither of these things are a smoking gun, or even particularly troubling. But taken in concert with everything else, it’s clear that this guy thinks there’s something to be gained by poking the bear. He wants to get right up to the edge of outright racism and then act like it’s your problem when you notice it. I just don’t see the point of that. I don’t see why a guy with his obvious talent in multiple areas would choose to go the empty provocateur route. It makes it seem like he has nothing else to offer, which I don’t think is true. The parts I’ve liked best about his work so far have NOTHING to do with that edgelord bullshit. You kinda gotta hope that he pulls a James Gunn (another writer of self-consciously edgy novels turned director) and figures out that there are more effective ways to affect an audience than shock value.

  25. David, as far as explaining why we like Zahler’s work although we really shouldn’t from a purely stylistic POV: He makes it work! And sometimes it’s just all that is needed.

    Currently I’m catching up (for obviously sad reasons) on the work of Larry Cohen, and while his movies rarely go longer than 90 minutes, he also has a similar style of endless digression and let’s be honest, directing wasn’t his biggest talent either. His directorial work is sloppy and often extremely amateurish and his scripts promise you one super exciting thing (for example monster babies or man eating aztec gods in New York), but then do something completely different and more pedestrian for most of the runtime (a drama about parental fear or a small time crook story about an asshole who we really shouldn’t care about) and yet it’s most of the time super interesting and entertaining.

    Some people just make it work!

    And don’t worry, as the resident Tarantino hater, I’m not holding your dislike for Zahler’s movies against you and am actually quiet understanding.

  26. I mean TBH, in some ways he reminds me of issues people had (and still have, I suppose) with early Tarantino movies- they’re very stylized in terms of dialogue and typically pretty glib about real-life sensitivities. Zahler seems less dorky and enthusiastic than Tarantino, though, so maybe it seems like he means it more?

    I dunno- all I can say is that elements of his work have definitely made me go “hmm”, but I haven’t gotten to the point of writing him off. Maybe it’ll happen (maybe it’ll happen after seeing this movie!) but it hasn’t quite yet.

  27. I just took a look through his IMDb. Here’s what I found:

    Ratings that show he might not be as right-wing as people think:
    Coffy – 7/10
    Foxy Brown – 7/10
    12 Years a Slave – 7/10
    Star Wars: The Last Jedi – 7/10
    Land of the Dead – 6/10
    Romero’s Dawn of the Dead – 6/10
    Romero’s Night of the Living Dead – 9/10 (yes, yes, I know that Romero didn’t have any racial politics in mind when he made it. However, that hasn’t stopped countless people from interpreting the film as being anti-racist)
    The Hateful Eight – 6/10
    Django Unchained – 6/10
    Mad Max: Fury Road – 7/10
    Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai – 8/10
    Female Trouble – 7/10
    Star Trek: The Next Generation (the whole series) – 8/10 (he also rated a bunch of individual episodes, but I’m too lazy to list them off)

    Random surprises that I encountered:
    Blade Runner – 5/10
    Kubrick’s The Shining – 4/10
    Hot Fuzz – 3/10
    He enjoys children’s animated flicks (a few examples: Dumbo – 9/10, Fantasia – 8/10, The Thief and the Cobbler – 7/10, The Little Mermaid – 7/10, Horton Hears a Who! (2008) – 7/10, Kung Fu Panda 2 – 7/10, Puss in Boots – 7/10)
    He isn’t much of a John Carpenter fan (his Carpenter ratings: The Thing – 6/10, They Live – 6/10, Assault on Precinct 13 – 6/10, Halloween – 5/10, Someone’s Watching Me! – 5/10, Ghosts of Mars – 4/10, Big Trouble in Little China – 3/10)

    TL;DR: Zahler has such massively varied taste it’s impossible to use it to figure out his political views.

    P.S. He did rate Del Toro; he gave The Shape of Water a 5/10 and Pacific Rim a 4/10.

  28. CJ, digressions are fine. Dragged Across Concrete has a short film in its mid-section that’s probably the best part of the film. The problem is that Zahler wastes the long running times he has. Dragged could have used its almost 3 hours to flesh out its black character that it pretends is the actual lead in the last 20 minutes. Instead it has long scenes of the racist white cops sitting in their cars on stakeouts, most of which don’t actually add anything to their characterizations. As far as Larry Cohen goes… if Zahler ever writes a Western half as entertaining as El Condor I’ll be shocked.

  29. I’ve enjoyed way too many sleazy Italian B movies from the ’70s to pretend like I’m someone who gets offended easily or is incapable of getting something out of morally problematic (or even repellant) art; I’m ridiculously excited for this movie, despite how objectionable some of it sounds. But I do wish some interviewer would hold Zahler’s feet to the fire more on this; they all seem to accept his “I’m not political” excuses and leave it there. I don’t really buy it. Maybe Zahler doesn’t have an opinion on these themes that keep popping up in his movies, but clearly he’s attracted to some weird, offensive stuff and I’d like to hear a little but more as to WHY he’s so interested in it.

    Honestly, if he just came out and said “I like being provocative and extreme, and racism really gets a reaction out of people,” I’d accept it. I wouldn’t agree with or like that justification, but at least it would be an explanation and a point of view he could defend, instead of just shrugging his shoulders and pretending like the story magically told itself and he had no control over it.

  30. We’ve spent almost as much time talking about whether or not Zahler is racist as with the movie Us. I am going to go see Us this weekend, I think, so I can talk about a movie that is probably way more interesting than whether or not Zahler is racist.

  31. Stern: That’s cool… but I was wondering… do you think Zahler is a racist or not? Cause from what I can see it can go either way!

  32. I think it’s also interesting, as Mr. M and others have indicated on here, that BONE TOMAHAWK is predicated on a flat-out racist premise, but many of us (myself included) didn’t bat an eye at it at the time.

    I think maybe that’s because BONE TOMAHAWK was playing off of old racist tropes from an established genre; it was a racist premise, but one that had been semi-normalized by 70 years worth of westerns with Native Americans as the villains. (One scene of a “civilized” Native American giving a DVD commentary disclaimer that views of the cannibal tribe do not necessarily reflect the views of the native population as a whole doesn’t really change the fact that the film is playing off the same “indigenous people = savages” stereotypes that westerns and Italian cannibal movies had exploited for years).

    Of course, stereotypes have frequently been baked into crime fiction, too. We’ve all enjoyed plenty of books and movies about noble white heroes facing off against scary black gang members, and it can be hard to find the line on what’s objectionable vs. what is just, say, a genre trope that is feeling out-of-date but wasn’t necessarily intended to be hateful.

  33. BrianB, I’ve all of his books except the science-fiction one and Hug Chickenpenny, and also some of his unproduced screenplays. Having done that, it’s pretty weird to see people speculating whether he is a racist or a nazi (!). There are positive minority characters (Mean Business’ protagonists are two African American police officers), his trademark evil-beyond-redemption characters are frequently racist or do things to minorities and women you’re supposed to hate them for, and there are commentaries about the futility of the war on drugs (Mean Business), the horrible violence women have been subjected to throughout History at the hands of men (Wraiths) and the cost of vengeance (Rattleborge) and even insensitivity (the whole plot of Mean Business is set in motion because the protagonist mocked a man who went to the police station after he was conned by a prostitute and lost his marriage and savings… something he later compares to the brutality the police subjected the villains, who strike back out of vengeance). I bet he leans more towards libertarianism, but overall he just seems uninterested in putting politics or social messages at the forefront of his stories, or having his works comment on the actions of his characters. He also obviously doesn’t seem to have any patience with the excesses of identity politics (an opinion I tend to share, honestly). When we’re at the point of analyzing his movie ratings and speculating whether or not this Jewish man not liking Green Room means he’s a nazi… I don’t know, maybe we’re getting a little too paranoid?

  34. George,

    I’m certainly not someone who thinks Zahler is a Nazi (I mean, his PUPPET MASTER movie is explicitly anti-Nazi, right?), but it is interesting to me that he keeps including problematic or provocative racial elements in his movies. I mean, he can claim that there’s not message and that he’s not political all he wants, but writing a story about a hot button issue such as police brutality is going to be inherently political, like it or not, even if you didn’t mean to do it, and he seems kinda chickenshit the way he talks around it like it wasn’t his decision to include it.

    What I mean to say is, you can understand why people might raise an eyebrow at some of the content in his works, right? Especially considering how deliberately provocative they are.

    That said, I’m currently a big fan of his first two movies as well as WAITHS OF THE BROKEN LAND, and I’m legitimately very excited for DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE.

  35. *WRAITHS

  36. I feel like he’s said everything he has to say and we’re going to start seeing the same shit over and over again with this guy.

  37. I hoped referring to the “Things that make you say hmmm” file would make it clear that I realize looking at the movie ratings for clues is a completely silly thing to do. But there’s something kind of grimly humorous to me about the way even his movie opinions fit the pattern. This started because of the reference to GET OUT (and DON’T BREATHE) as “manure” in his Fangoria column. On one hand, I don’t really believe that someone not liking GET OUT means they’re probly racist, and I actually know more than one metalhead horror dude who will automatically believe that any new horror movie that becomes a crossover hit is the actual worst movie ever made and must be destroyed.

    On the other hand, to bring up apropos of nothing an almost universally beloved movie, pretending like you don’t know that you would need to elaborate on that for anyone to know what you’re talking about, is such petty trolling. And when I tweeted about it the official Cinestate account verified that there had been a brouhaha with the editors about it. So it was a line he fought to keep in!

    Maybe as someone who reviews movies myself, and sees my reviews as a reflection of myself, I read more into it than some would. But I’m aware I’m reading into it. I wanted to share the link for people inclined to my same style of obsession, but not as evidence to be used in a court of law.

    Over time I think it will be easier for his movies and books to stand (or not stand) on their own. As has been pointed out, we watch older movies (say, Michael Winner films) and can let that shit slide more. But to me the popular arts are sacred, I believe they are full of meaning and expression, and if they’re putting across some evil shit that creeps me out I oughta talk about it just like I would talk about if a movie inspires and moves me.

    But to this day I read the gimmick in BONE TOMAHAWK as cleverly *un*-racist. Particularly the part about the white people being too stupid and ignorant to tell the difference between Natives and mutant cavemen. If he intended that to be racist I think he slipped up.

  38. I mean, the cannibal tribe from BONE TOMAHAWK are still supposed to be indigenous people, even if they weren’t descended from any Native American tribes, right? Unless I’m forgetting the back story and they’re supposed to be descended from white settlers or something?

    Either way, they are heavily inspired by stereotypical depictions of Native Americans in westerns and South American tribes in cannibal movies. I maintain that there is something inherently racist in the premise, even though I don’t think Zahler is being hateful, just playing with genre tropes that haven’t aged well.

  39. I also maintain that BONE TOMAHAWK is a great movie. But I wouldn’t blame someone if they told me they found it insensitive or offensive.

  40. Also within the posted imdb link, on the right I see the heading “Favorite Directors of author S. Craig Zahler” adorned with a picture of Sidney Lumet, and I say “well, the guy can’t be ALL bad”

  41. This quote from the Riot Fest interview seems trollish in a similar (if less dismissive) way as the Get Out reference does:

    “Lack of pretense couldn’t be more important to me in a picture,” he continues. “I suppose that’s the movie that isn’t the genre movie—something like an Academy Award-winning Moonlight or 12 Years a Slave. I think that both of those are pretty good movies and have some real strong stuff in each of them. But to me, these are dramas, and that’s a genre. In particular, there’s an agenda that’s driving both of them, which in general is not my favorite kind of picture [where] the message is … subtler and mixed in, rather than, ‘Here’s what this movie’s about, and it’s going to let you know, be more tolerant of this and bullying is that and accept this other group.’ I understand that that serves a point for people, and that drives a lot of people to make movies, but it doesn’t drive me to see them, and it isn’t where I come from.”

  42. The fact that he specifically brings up two films about Africans Americans as “agenda-driven” tells me a lot about him. It reminds me of the business asshole in FIRST REFORMED who thinks that any mention of the environment existing is “too political.” Films about white people (even ones who have very strong political opinions) are “just stories;” films primarily about black people are intrinsically “political,” even if they’re good. It’s a different thing from hating minorities, but it’s probably a more common and more invisible kind of racism. That’s what “white privilege” is all about: the implicit assumption that whiteness is the norm, and anything else is a deviation (even if it’s not inherently a bad deviation).

    That having been said, I’ll be seeing DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE this weekend knowing that it’s my privilege to be in a position to watch good art by unenlightened people.

  43. I should add, my point is that I don’t see either 12 Years a Slave or Moonlight as agenda-driven message movies. That strikes me as incredibly reductive.

  44. Exactly, Mr. Subtlety. I was writing my second comment while you posted yours but you nailed what I was getting at.

  45. Yeah, that quote is a little baffling, since I think the more common perception would be that genre flicks *do* tend to mix any messages they might be trying to get across into a slightly more subtle metaphor, as opposed to drama pieces where there may be some question around character motivation, but the theme is gonna be the theme. Like, I don’t think the “message” of 12 YEARS A SLAVE is…subtle? Not even as like 1-level-deep of metaphor, like THR BABADOOK or something.

  46. Kurgan: He’s a bit unclear with what the “not” refers to, but I think he’s in agreement with you about genre vs drama. I just thing it’s dismissive to call 12 Years a Slave a message movie or agenda-driven or use it and Moonlight as his two examples. What, was Birdman the height of subtlety?

  47. Haven’t had 158 minutes free to watch this yet but really appreciate your analysis.

  48. Vern I think you might like MEAN BUSINESS ON NORTH GANTON STREET. It’s another of his modern crime works and with a black protag it’s inclusion of minority characters won’t feel like ass-covering. Also it’s fantastic.

    As for DRAGGED, I don’t think we can call it racist SPOILER because the overall arc of the story is telling Ridgeman to his face he was wrong to do any of this, and punishing the shit out of him for it. But yeah, I wish we got some of Henry and Biscuit driving around at the start. Zahler’s movies always seem a bit surreal to be usefully mapped onto reality. I don’t really buy it as commentary, just bizarro exploitation. I was reminded most of No Country for Old Men, in the implied criminal world, and how one character’s descent through it served to illuminate the other character’s arc, kind of a secret protagonist structure (I believe it’s called?).

    Either way, it was a good one. Zahler’s an eccentric edgy dude and I like his movies. I think folks give his movies a bit too much power when they try to praise or criticize what they’re saying. And for what it’s worth I’ve seen a bunch of writing by actual racists and the ending made them fucking seethe, so that’s nice.

  49. Yeah, I’ve read the statement a couple of times, and I feel like he must *mean* that, but it reads as the opposite to me. Confusing.

    Regardless, I do think there’s a perception that the simple fact of a movie starring minority characters makes it “political” regardless of content and, unfortunately, I think in this society, that’s an accurate perception for a lot of people. You can see this for instance in the reactions to US (which obviously isn’t really dependent on the race of the actors involved at all) and to Jordan Peele’s statements about not wanting to cast white leads in his movies. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Peele doing that and I think he *should* do that, but it is, sadly, still a political statement to cast a black actor in role that *could* have been filled by a white actor. I mean, isn’t that one of the reasons we all think of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as a groundbreaking film?

  50. cshank- “Bizarro exploitation” is the best descriptor I think I’ve heard yet for his aesthetic.

  51. Lot of really interesting discussion here. Because I haven’t seen the movie (and am unlikely to do so – I didn’t like BRAWL very much at all) but I am metal to the core of my bones, I thought I’d respond to this paragraph:

    To Zahler it’s probly more of an aesthetic than an ideology. In PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH there’s discussion of Jews who collect Nazi memorabilia. In a 2018 interview with metal outlet Riotfest, he defends casting Gibson by saying that as a critic for Metal Maniacs he gave positive reviews to the bands Destroyer 666 and Grand Belial’s Key (who I think he’s implying are anti-semitic) even though he’s of Jewish heritage. “My philosophy has always been ‘art over politics,’” he says. And I really think him being a metalhead – he also has a band called Realmbuilder, and “claims to purchase up to 200 metal albums per year” according to the article – explains some of his attitude. In my experience, most people into pentagrams, goatheads and fantasy painting massacres do not actually worship the devil. They just get a charge out of the morbid transgression. There’s a similar tendency to try to make your exploitation legit by having characters say despicable things the writer hopefully doesn’t agree with (again I must bring up Tarantino and Zombie).

    The metal scene has a real problem with Nazis lately – both in the audience, and on stage. It’s gotten so bad that at this point if a band calls themselves “black metal,” you better Google them at least 3 pages deep before you even give them a test listen, because there’s about a 75% chance they’re gonna turn out to be NS themselves or have some sketchy-ass associations. And when people get called out in a “why do you like so many Nazi bands?” manner, they ALWAYS fall back on “politics over art/it’s all about the RIFFS, man/metal’s not supposed to be a safe space so fuck off, snowflake” and similar bullshit. They claim that just because I’m OK with listening to Cannibal Corpse songs about hacking up women, I should be OK with them listening to songs about a fucking master race. It’s fucking depressing and infuriating at once. So for Zahler to be one of those assholes makes me feel worse about him.

    I agree with Majestyk’s assertion that Zahler is basically trolling with right-wing politics. Whether he personally agrees with them himself or not, he’s pushing them on the viewer in a very unnecessary and dickbag-ish way. And then complaining when other moviemakers inject political messages into their work. Couple that with the purely aesthetic things I didn’t like about BRAWL (the shitty gore FX, the blue filter he apparently superglued over the lens, the fact that it was at least 30 minutes too long), I will not be watching this movie.

  52. I have to admit, after CAPTAIN MARVEL I was a little nervous that the comments on this one would be a nightmare, but it’s been a really good discussion. Thanks everybody, and keep it up. I appreciate the differing views about both the style and the substance (?) of his movies, about separating the art from the dumb shit the artist says in interviews, and the information shared about heavy metal, books, etc.

    cshank – At one point MEAN BUSINESS was going to be a movie starring Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio. I think enough time has passed that it’s probly not happening anymore though.

    “And for what it’s worth I’ve seen a bunch of writing by actual racists and the ending made them fucking seethe, so that’s nice.” – That’s good to hear!

    Actually, this is one thing I didn’t really address in the review: I got a feeling of sick emptiness about his opulent lifestyle at the end. It didn’t exactly feel like “The Lioness has been reunited with her cub.” I guess you’d have to consider him victorious, and I’m sure he’s happy not to be chasing johns with a baseball bat, but it doesn’t feel to me like the happy ending I’ve seen it referred to as. (I guess I didn’t understand the meaning of the video game thing either.)

  53. It’s because this movie isn’t about a woman sharing her opinion so if didn’t upset some people as much.

  54. Zahler always made me uneasy, like some grim-faced neofolk band who’ve never said anything outright fascist but seem way too interested in Wodenist folk traditions. Some of the advance word on this movie had me worried it might be appalling. Well, I guess it’s not rabidly racist. Just kind of racist. No worse than 48 HOURS, even. But we’re thirty-some years on from 48 HOURS, and I’d like something more thoughtful.

    It’s just clumsy in a way that his last two films weren’t. The line everyone quotes from the police station scene is Vince Vaughn’s quip about ordering dark roast on Martin Luther King Day, because it’s dickish but also memorable. But most of that conversation is dull long-ass speechifying about how accused racists are like victims of McCarthyism, and the media is hypocritical because it’s intolerant of intolerance, or something. When the suspension turned out to be without pay, I thought, Christ, give me a break.

    I thought that again when we met Vaughn’s African-American girlfriend. It reminded me of that recent Samuel L. Jackson interview, where he mentioned that Bonnie in PULP FICTION wasn’t originally scripted as black. They made her black to soften the scene where Tarantino is casually tossing around the n-word.

    Oh, am I the only one who didn’t like the scenes with Jennifer Carpenter before the robbery? I can imagine something very similar to that being fantastic. But bringing her newborn kid into it makes it cloying and manipulative in a way that Zahler’s other work avoids. (The subplot about Vaughn’s marriage proposal goes into similar territory, but it’s handled more deftly.)

    It’s not a terrible movie! The three hours fly past, the baroque dialogue is as entertaining as ever, there are lots of cool character touches. The bank sequence can stand up to anything in BONE TOMAHAWK or CELL BLOCK 99. But the whole thing feels half-assembled.

  55. Oh, a couple more observations:

    I’m not sure why this international criminal gang with the high-tech weaponry needs to hold up variety stores to pay for their getaway van.

    Anyone else see the MOTORAMA-style fictitious licence plate on the stake-out car? I couldn’t quite make out what it read. “Grand Harvest State” or something.

  56. I appreciate the thoughtful and civil discussion of these issues. Some of the problem I think does center on our use of “ism” and “ist” words in such a broad, flexible and elastic manner to describe such a wide aperture of thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, that we end up caught in a fire-fight of imprecise and emotionally loaded and escalating offensiveness and defensiveness that ends up being unnecessarily hurtful and unproductive. There’s this kind of Godwin’s Law at work, where at a certain point in the dialogue (often very early) you just get tired of engaging in disciplined and charitable thought and just start defining people’s personhoood in negative terms–you are a “racist” or that’s “racist” — it does not offer much in the way of a path forward. I guess it is the attempt to define intent or personhood based on words or actions that you don’t like and the tendency to not draw meaningful distinctions–between degrees of creepiness, between carelessly typed thoughts and actual violence, etc., etc. This doesn’t mean you can’t call a race/ethnicity or politically oriented action or thought gross or unsettling, it’s just when you go this Godwin’s Law path of just calling people and their thoughts racist, it feels lazy and unproductive and self-righteous–even when the basic underling observation is accurate. I am really just focusing on the language here and how it takes on a life of its own. We are all very sensitive about language and labels these days, but we’re often not very sensitive or discriminating (pun intended!) in calling things “racist.” I just wonder if we need a better and more nuanced vocabulary for these discussions.

    Whatever the case, I do appreciate the generally charitable and often open-minded and vulnerable dialogue that happens here, and that is modeled in this review and that Vern sets the tone for.

  57. Now, all that said, it is really fascinating to me that Mel Gibson has never really publicly come to terms with his issues and has kind of shrugged it all off and taken the position of, “what’s everyone’s problem, lighten up you guys, get on with your lives.” I wonder how much of that is also a generational thing…like, Mel just is too much living in that “my perception is objective reality” mindset and just isn’t ready to do the work on himself. He’s too well-defended, denying his shadow side.

    Anyway, definitely, the casting of Gibson in the context of everything else in this guy’s filmography is pushing buttons. There is a kind of trolling at work, for sure. I kind of think it’s good for the conversation, though. It gets us talking and it’s a unique film viewpoint. In some ways, this is actually not unlike what Jordan Peele is doing, just with a very different sensibility, and clearly, his politics seem decidedly unwoke and anti-PC or whatever. Both are trying to push buttons and make people uncomfortable and entertain, though I think Zahler is a little more subtle and misdirecty about his personal politics. Part of that provocateur sensibility in making you wonder.

    And, here again, with the power of words. We can dismiss this guy as “trolling” or an “edgelord”– these descriptions definitely have some merit to them, but they are limiting and kind of dismissing to someone who does seem like a bona fide auteur who is trying to be transgressive and provocative in a lot of ways, not just in pushing political buttons. It’s not just about making you politically or socially uncomfortable but about making you generally uncomfortable and uneasy and feel, weird, for lack of a better word. That shows up in the pacing and the violence and the odd choices, it sounds like.

    That said, I still haven’t seen this or BRAWL, so, I’m mostly just tracking this from what you guys say. I need to check these two out. BONE TOMAHAWK was pretty great.

  58. Actually, “subtle” is probably the wrong word for anything about Zahler. Like Vern said, he seems to enjoy making people go “hmm….”

  59. In my humble opinion, it is depressing (for me at least) to see so many comments with set opinions on a movie most of the commenters have to not seen. I’ve been hanging in these parts for many,many years and always read ALL the comment. First time this happens. Everybody has an ironclad opinion, only 1/3 at the most have seen the movie. One guy has not even seen Brawl and offers his take on the filmmaker. He’s made 3 movies and he dissects the guy having seen only 1!
    C’mon people! At least see the movie first and make up your own minds.

  60. Oh my gosh, what a bunch of slack-jawed people around here. Some of you folk need to see a shrink for multiple personality disorder or something. Talk about the MSNBC of movie sites or attempting to “out PC” the PC’ers. How do you go outside in a given day? Your delicate sensibilities are going to crush you if you continue at this pace. You profess your love for a particular type of film growing up, and those films you would hate if they came out today. Where is the consistency?

    Spoilers+++++++++

    1) There was nothing wrong with the way the mom wanted to protect her kid. Guarantee most parents would be just a tad upset if something like that were happening to their kids.
    2) Nothing in Don’s speech was out of line/not true. It was exactly spot-on.
    3) In fairness to Mel, he didn’t want that video hanging over him for the rest of his days. Obv, he was just going through that rigmarole and didn’t like it very much.

    4) I will say Kittles’ character wants it both ways since he:
    A) Shoots Mel when he’s about to burn the Van.
    B) Threatens him with blackmail for killing the hostage – even though she just killed his partner and probable best friend – as you were saying they were attempting to save her, etc.
    C) He was apart of a brutal robbery at the bank. Mel doesn’t know he didn’t kill those folk.

    He would have never gotten the gold w/o Mel and co’s blood, sweat and tears for taking out the bad guys. Not to mention he’d be just as dead as Muscles ended up getting.

    My point or what I’m trying to point out is how he gets to have it both ways being an accessory to murder and stealing the gold but wants to come off as some kind of angel and has this code of honor or whatever. After the fact he says he’s never killed anybody, even though he just shot Mel in the leg 20 minutes prior. While Mel is just a typical run-of-the-mill crooked cop. It’s not that black and white or cut and dried is all I’m saying.

  61. Cool, love new people that come here and talk shit about us. So refreshing.

    But, hey, at least there was substance to his post.

  62. Bahaha…Sternshein, you crack me up.

  63. Saw this yesterday. It’s okay. In fact i enjoyed it quite a bit.

  64. “Art is art. We never did this until now with such scrutiny.”

    I know this comment was made at the very top of this thread, but I really couldn’t let it slide because it’s so completely ahistorical. I mean, there was a time where filmmakers’ livelihoods were stripped from them because they had the wrong politics. Under pressure of the government, Hollywood actually created a code of what you could or could not do that was highly political. Films and filmmakers were scrutinized and punished if they were considered leftists. Comparatively, it’s really not that big of a deal that some people on the internet can say that they think your movie might be racist.

    I unabashedly loved Bone Tomahawk, and call me naive, but I guess having Zahn McClarnon show up and tell the audience that these cavemen shouldn’t be confused with Native Americans was enough for me to distance the film from the genre’s racist past.

    I had a more mixed reaction to Brawl. Sure, some of it was the iffy racial poltiics, but my main problem with that film is the trope of the “anti-hero family man.” It’s when we have a problematic hero or anti-hero who does terrible things, but the filmmaker expects us to relate to him because, you know, he’s doing it all for his family. I’ve sensed this in a few movies, but I think I finally recognized it as lazy filmmaking in American Made, which I saw before Brawl. But when I saw this trope in Brawl, it basically dampened my mood (although I thought certain individual scenes were well done). Anyways, lots of terrible people who do awful things have families who they love. It doesn’t make them automatically good or interesting people. Beyond that it’s become tired, trite, and fucking boring.

  65. To me, he’s a sadist just like QT is. But the latter gets a pass for his stuff. His thing above all else is taking his characters and putting them on full display only to annihilate then with a smile. This latest one is very nuanced when you break it down. You have the two cops letting their guard down with a white hostage and you end up seeing what that gets them. And how if Mel could only “trust” Kittles he’d be living it up in Malibu or somewhere equivalent. A lot of layers going on.

    If people just looked at the piece as is w/o all the outside stuff it’s well worth a viewing. I felt it too long and perhaps a tad indulgent ala., QT. Justthesame, I was riveted as hell and just as nervous on what was going to happen next. Can’t asked for much more than that I suppose.

    Not sure how I felt about the Carpenter arc and whether he should have cut it or not? Say what you want about the director – but he’s got something to say that’s not the same ole watered-down material. He’s got balls of steel.

  66. Wasn’t an element of the ending that hunting lions was, as his younger brother called it earlier in the movie, “some white people shit”?

    I thought this one was fine. Probably my least favorite of the three Zahler movies I’ve seen, but still solid. The bank robbery sequence was fire, but I thought just introducing Jennifer Carpenter’s character like that right before was sort of lazy and a clear set-up.

    The race issues is out there because of the Don Johnson speech that clearly energizes what until then is a fairly lethargic pace. But at least the cell phone video aspect is re-incorporated into the ending. I think, like Peckinpah, Zahler has deeper issues with writing and portraying women.

  67. How many here have seen his written Puppetmaster movie?

  68. I didn’t realize this but Gibson and Vaughn seem to have a pretty close relationship. Did you know that in 2016 they both did commencement speeches at Liberty University? My guess is that whatever politics they have are the same as Zahler’s politics.

  69. I’d imagine Vaughn is closer to Zahler’s politics than to Gibson’s. He’s a Ron Paul/Libertarian Party/NRA guy.

  70. GQTaste ain’t new. He’s basically Rogue4 in purer form. He only shows up when he can mock us for caring about things he thinks it’s dumb to care about.

    As to his argument, I don’t feel I am under any obligation to watch any movie for any reason. Concurrently, any reason I choose not to watch a movie is also acceptable. They are my eyes and my hours and I use them how I want. A year ago, I was crazy excited about this movie. Now it just seems like a drag. I’m not skipping it on moral grounds; I’m skipping it because it no longer seems like an enjoyable use of my time.

  71. It’s funny that Zahler made a movie with Gibson because they strike me as somewhat similar filmmakers. Great visual storytellers, at best questionable politically, who come off as sort of dense in their interviews and writing. Eli Roth is another one.

    That said, I look forward to seeing this once I can easily steal it.

  72. John, it’s a movie on on demand so it’s very easy to steal now.

  73. Well, watched this last night and absolutely loved it. Probably the best crime film of the decade and an early front runner for best movie of 2019.

    FWIW, I think Vern ultimately IS reading too much into the politics. While Zahler is being deliberately provocative in places, the film stays well within the established crime fiction confines of depicting terrible behavior without endorsing it. In fact, I’d argue that Gibson’s character’s racism is a crucial part of the story, explaining why he does what he does at the end and BIG SPOILERS it’s pretty clear that he fucks himself over and gets himself killed specifically because of it.

  74. Goddammit, Dan. I was all set to write Zahler off, mostly because I can withstand a three-hour movie if I believe in the director but I’m not gonna do it for some tough guy asshole, and I’m certainly not gonna do it for some dreary saga about corrupt cops, who truly do not need movie stars making them look cool. Would you mind telling me what’s so fucking great about it so I can tell if this is one of those times where I can safely ignore your praise because you are some kind of lunatic who will watch a South Korean movie about gardening and then complain that it’s not as boring as the other South Korean movies about gardening you’ve watched in the past week?

  75. I truly don’t know what you’d think of it. It seems philosophically at odds with your genre preferences; instead of paring everything down to the essentials, it luxuriates in all the moments any other writer would have left out. It’s 90% extraneous detail, but the thing is that every detail is fucking perfect.

  76. BTW your description of my taste in movies made my fucking day, thanks

  77. This might sound like a contradiction, but the slowness of this movie is ridiculously compelling. The 2hrs 40mins flew by, had my stomach in knots for much of it, and at the end my only complaint was that it could have been longer.

    Also, like BRAWL I think that your patience is rewarded; the stuff that happens in this one (not nearly as lurid as Zahler’s last 2 films, but still shocking) is more impactful because you had to wait for it.

  78. Like CJ said above, some directors just pull it off. I was prepared to hate both BONE and BRAWL, and in fact spent the first half of the latter clowning the shit out of it (“Aaaaaaand here’s the first shot of the John Carpenter version”—me watching the scene where he arrives on the prison bus about an hour into the movie) but it eventually won me over. That said, I never actually thought all that build-up was a good idea; it just inexplicably worked and I stopped complaining about it. It was like watching some jackass try a stupid stunt that by all rights should have killed him and then marveling that he actually pulled it off. That doesn’t mean he was smart to pull the stunt. Thought the same about BONE to a lesser degree. I didn’t think there was any way the payoff was going to be worth all the endless setup, but it kind of was. It’s a neat trick but I am doubtful how many times Zahler can pull it off, and the subject matter here makes it even more unlikely. Those two movies had strong protagonists that you wanted to root for, and that helped drag you through the doldrums. Somehow I don’t see the same thing happening in this movie about the kind of assholes that made me stop reading The Root first thing in the morning because it always ruined the rest of my day.

    Seriously, though, one half of your taste in film makes me want to die. If I was married, I’d divorce a woman who made me watch the movies you watch. Irreconcilable differences. Emotional abuse. And I’d win, too. All I’d have to do is bring a few DVDs into court with me.

  79. I don’t agree that Ridgeman’s racism screws him over, necessarily. I think if he was in a car with a light-skinned getaway driver at the end, he’d still want that tape back. (In the world of the story, if anything, Ridgeman would have been better off being more racist.)

  80. “the slowness of this movie is ridiculously compelling.”

    That’s exactly what you’d say about the South Korean gardening movie.

  81. MR Majestyk:
    I completely agree with everything “Dan Prestwich” says about the movie and then some. You should definitely take his word on it and check it out.

    RBatty024: The “we didn’t use to do this” was not a comment on American society, I am not an American after all, I’m from Greece. It was referring to US here, the “outlawvern” community. And no, we didn’t use to do this. Have 60+ comments elaborating on a man’s political leanings based on evidence provided by his movies, especially his last one, with 3/4 of the people commenting not having seen it.

  82. ….make that 80+ comment as of this writing.

  83. Few genre auteurs make movies worth discussing. Zahler makes pictures worth having an opinion about, and that’s impressive. In my opinion, he resembles James Ellroy, one of my very favorite authors, but I guy I probably don’t agree with much. However, both have a distinct moral point of view in their work. I think the thing that is fascinating and laudable about both is that they have a racist world view, in that the world is racist in their movies. In my real world, people are racist, too, and it’s sad and awful but true. To avoid race in crime stories is inherently racist

  84. Mr. M,

    Okay, if your take on BRAWL is that it suceeded despite its pacing and not because of it, then I think you can safely skip DAC.

  85. Re: the hypothetical South Korean gardening movie.

    I’d like to think my opinion would be more obnoxious; that I found its boringness to be an intellectually stimulating aesthetic statement of purpose in how it challenges the viewer’s perceptions of what constitutes a tolerable viewing experience

  86. I’m someone who liked the movie (though not as much as TOMAHAWK or BRAWL), and I don’t have a problem with racism in crime movies, or movies with racist characters… but I don’t think it’s fair to imply that Zahler is just depicting the world as is, with characters just saying what those characters would say (as Zahler himself claims), that he’s not inserting any politics and people are reading into nothing. At the very least, there’s Don Johnson’s speech that Vern quoted. To me, that does and did read as polemical, and is out of step with the rest of the banter and dialogue in the movie, which I otherwise enjoyed a lot (including Lurasetti’s “dark roast” joke from the same scene).

  87. I’ve been struggling to find the right words for why this is a great movie. It’s like some sort of unholy combination of George V. Higgins, Yasujiro Ozu and Umberto Lenzi, and it feels like something that was designed specifically for me and me alone.

    I know the Ozu comparison is outrageous, but I’m struggling for a good analog for this movie’s patient, carefully framed style that lets the silences and the settings speak as loudly as the dialogue.

  88. I’m not sure I like this S. Craig Zahler character. I find his claims that he’s “not political” disingenuous, I find his provocation largely empty, I was disappointed by his callow dismissal of MOONLIGHT as an “agenda movie” (in fact, I straight up called him racist, in this very thread, as recently as Friday). And the idea that this movie somehow isn’t political is just flat-out ridiculous.

    But I’m forced by my honor as a gentleman to say that DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE is fucking great. I mean, it’s absolutely terrific. And I flat-out disagree that it’s in any way an endorsement of its characters’ terrible outlook. In fact, I think it’s a pretty clear condemnation of them.

    SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

    There’s plenty of shocking stuff in there, but to me it all serves a vital purpose. Reading that Don Johnson monologue in the abstract is wince-inducing (at the very least), but having seen the whole thing, I can’t imagine the movie working without it. The entire climax entirely hinges upon the fact that we know Ridgeman isn’t just a Riggs-esque over-the-line cop, he’s an out-and-out racist. It’s something that needs to be explicit, impossible to ignore or try to shrug off as the usual baseline fascist movie cop stuff. We need to hear it, and its needs to be brazen enough that it sticks with you for the whole movie.

    That’s necessary, because it’s something that has to be clearly in your head for the entire final sequence, which, at least to me, seems like the entire point. Because by the time the climax rolls around, we’ve watched as the entire movie has quietly demonstrated how self-serving and full of shit Ridgeman is. When he tries to pull out the “my daughter was assaulted” defense to justify his actions at the end, after something like a half-dozen gruesome deaths, even he seems embarrassed to be spitting such obvious bullshit. He’s been claiming he’s doing this for his wife and daughter, but of course having a soda dumped on her isn’t anywhere near justifying all the shit he’s done since then. Behind all his angry rhetoric and confident analysis and claims about his commitment to law, he’s really just an angry old man getting people killed out of greed and vanity. The movie’s entire final conflict is about whether he can maybe be a halfway decent human being for once, or if he’s too weak to keep from self-destructing even when he might be able to walk away with his life. That’s the climax, not the actual gunfight. And it’s just about the most perfect thing I’ve seen in a crime movie in years.

    My point is, I went into this very anxious, and came out thinking it’s been misunderstood. Zahler does seem like the kind of prick who would get off on playing with cultural fire, but his movie, at least this time, is as clearly anti-racist as you can get without explicitly saying it aloud. If it cuts a little too close to home for you to enjoy watching it, I get that, but I actually think it’s clearly intended as an unambiguous condemnation of these assholes and their self-serving bullshit. In fact, I can’t see what the conflict is supposed to be otherwise. Surely there’s no way to watch the final sequence and imagine we’re supposed to be on Ridgeman’s side instead of John’s, is there? We have no reason to think John’s going to try anything shady, but a LOT of reasons to assume that Ridgeman will. The whole tension is rooted in whether or not this asshole racist is gonna ruin everything. The movie’s problem may be that it allows its right-wing characters to make their case with words, but undermines them with actions. It’s not as explicit, but if you’re paying attention I think it speaks much louder that some monologue denouncing him would.

    So definitely count me as a staunch defender of the movie. Zahler himself seems like he could use a little of that introspection that he hates movies suggesting, but in this case, I think he made a great movie which has its tiny, black heart in the right place.

  89. Dan, watch it again and you’ll pick up more stuff to ruminate on. Hey, how nervous were you after the bank part and they’re heading out of the city? I was nervous as fuck sitting there in my seat. In fact, I had to stand up in parts being so enthralled in the piece.

  90. Another thing about that Don Johnson scene: after his cringe inducing monologue about our PC culture preventing our heroic cops from properly doing their jobs, he then goes on to explain that he watched the video and, in fact, Gibson and Vaughn DID go too far and brutalized Noel G, and that Gibson’s character has become a toxic human being who engages in destructive behavior. And that ends up more or less describing Gibson’s story arc.

  91. The movie tells us that Ridgeman is violent and self-destructive, sure. That doesn’t make it a critique of racism. I’d thought about reading things the way Dan P. and Mr. Subtlety are reading them, but the Don Johnson scene is too much of an obstacle.

    Ridgeman isn’t the issue there. He makes some asshole comments, and they’re asshole comments I can absolutely believe that his character would make. But Calvert and Lurasetti’s diatribes against the media are too weird and awkward. I don’t buy those sympathetic remarks about old Hollywood leftists from a cop we’re meant to read as a racist authoritarian. They sound more like what you’d hear from, say, an edgy screenwriter in a doom metal band. They’re Reddit comments.

    I could maybe, maybe see some subversion in the scene with the World’s Most Menacing Soda Toss if the plotting made any sense. But as others have pointed out, it doesn’t. There is no way those kids would not know that the girl’s parents were both cops. There is no way those cops wouldn’t make the bullies’ lives miserable.

  92. He is a talented guy for sure.

  93. I really don’t buy this movie as a critique of racism anymore than it is an endorsement of it. I don’t even understand what “the movie wouldn’t work without the Don Johnson speech” is supposed to mean. I don’t see how that polemical about the hysterical media has anything to do with whether Ridgeman is racist or not, or how that’s supposed to effect our frame of mind about who we’re rooting for at the end. The idea that it’s actually supposed to make us root *against* him is, to me, confusing. Don’t know how you arrive there.

    The idea that anything is “intended as an unambiguous condemnation” of the main characters is almost certainly incorrect, though. That is just not how Zahler rolls.

    I can’t get on board with Johns being the unambiguous hero of the final scene, either. “We have no reason to think John’s going to try anything shady” — anything shady like shooting Ridgeman when he tried to burn the truck? Or blackmailing him?

    And if the movie intended to say that it was his racism that brought him down (and I don’t think the movie has intentions like that) then I don’t agree that it was effectively said. If it was some bank robber from Norway in the drivers seat, I don’t think Ridgeman — who is constantly calculating odds and thinking through all the angles, its one of his main things — just lets him keep the tape, either. Any color criminal, I think it probably plays out the same way. We just saw him spare no quarter for German criminals.

  94. I also don’t buy that the movie explicitly condemns Gibson. It does, but it doesn’t too.

    For any reading of the movie as anti-racist, I’d ask why does that part lead off the speech Johnson gives? The scene easily could’ve been written to hit most of the same beats without coming out guns blazing. And how did Gibson’s racism bring him down? Making logical leaps about his daughter’s safety? Maybe. But that seems like a stretch. Beyond that the rest runs counter, he ends up trusting Henry more than anybody and it’s until he can’t handle how cellphone footage could once again take him down in the future that he loses it and won’t accept the Henry’s word as enough, when he knows he can’t handle another media feeding frenzy.

    And on the blackmail topic, I must’ve taken a sip at the wrong time or something, but I found the “execution” of the female hostage staging….strange. Was there some odd miscommunication, I missed? Because I took it as her pulling a gun and shooting Vince Vaughn (bcs reasons/fear? really surprised nobody has picked on that subject, so I’m assuming I missed something.)

  95. SPOILERS

    BrianB: Right before the hostage leaves the van, Vogelman’s looking through her ID and threatening her loved ones. We’re supposed to think that he intimidated her into trying to shoot the police.

    I’ve gotta say I didn’t find this too plausible. Yeah, she doesn’t know Lurasetti is a cop, but I can’t see how she figures the odds are better with Vogelman than against him.

  96. Yes, I remembered that. I think I neglected to mention it because she would’ve been around to hear their comments/betrayal of their accomplices of Biscuit and Henry, unless she’s really knocked out for that long from the earlier blow to the head for the scene setting to that. After all she saw….that seemed like it would’ve required major stockholm syndrome buy-in shit.

  97. She heard*

  98. That part I thought was fine. They asked her if she had loved ones at that address on the ID, then they said they were going to call some people and have them go there and murder everyone unless she did what they said. So in her mind, she was sacrificing herself for her loved ones (her kids, presumably).

  99. I mean, here’s how it breaks down. If she goes along with their plan, then she needs to try to gun down a couple of strangers, knowing if they don’t kill her then Vogelman surely will. If she doesn’t, then she stands a fairish chance of survivng, and even if Vogelman gets away from Ridgeman and Lurasetti, he’s likely to have higher immediate priorities than revenge on her family. It’s not exactly Patty Hearst.

  100. Mr. Majestyk, I agree you don’t have to see the movie if you don’t want to. Just don’t listen to some pale-skin, virgin priests over their protests. People can be way too sensitive with their “PC’ing” and attempting to out PC the next guy. See who can get the Gold Medal or first prize in it (and boy is it competitive). I’d argue that’s one of the reasons why we have the President we do. Most folk hate it now more than ever.

    Some critics got more rules than Shaira law when it comes to watching films and holding up the “purity” of the characters. You don’t have to put all this complication around it. Thank God Scorsese et al, wasn’t coming of age today. They’d never make it. In the past you either liked a film or you didn’t. Sometimes you were ambivalent on the matter.

    It reminds me similarly of – say some 26yr. old Huffington Post reporter, fresh out of college and brimming with idealism up to his forehead. Where they decide on a particular topic that other groups: rather it be blacks, Latinos, women, gays, whatever say, “well those folk can’t see what’s really going on here so ‘I’ will be the one who will correct this travesty.” In other words, (in this instance the reporter thinks) they’re not smart enough to be able to ascertain what’s really on here. But never fear, I’m here to show them the way, so to speak. That’s narcissistic and frankly dangerous when they pull that crap. Not to mention who is really being racist to begin with? The people that don’t have the faith in other demographics’ intelligence to see through such a thing or an entertainer who is showing some ambiguity with the way people are in reality?

  101. We have the President we have now becsuse the people who voted for him are morons.

  102. The Humaniac: Of course you’re right. To take on a story about corrupt cops (or even cops in general) and not deal with racism is absurd. I’m not saying this movie shouldn’t exist. I’m saying I’m not up to watching it right now. I’m not interested in being entertained by a topic that angers and saddens me daily. Perhaps that is a moral failing. I don’t watch movies on the topic from the liberal side of the aisle either. You couldn’t pay me to watch DETROIT, for example. Real life is depressing enough.

    GQTaste: You must know that there is no argument you could make on any subject that would put me on your side. The fact that you love this movie is a huge strike against it.

  103. Hey, Free Dummy

    April 1st, 2019 at 11:45 am

    The most pointless and boring possible contribution to any discussion is when internet tough guys get all puffed up ranting about “PC Culture”.

    That’s one hot take that’s consistently room temperature.

  104. RE: President we have now b/c of morons. I concur wholeheartedly. I voted for the donkeys last time out so I did my part last time out. And will do so again no matter whom they nom. next year.

    Mr M.: Wouldn’t go so far as to say I loved it. I was riveted, no doubt about it. Nervous the last hour at least. I just had a problem with a few that find “all this racist stuff” going on throughout the film with the director, Mel and I suppose Vince more recently. Oh yeah, looks like Don Johnson as well.

    Truth be told, I did have a few quips with it. Like I mentioned up stream…. lets just say a certain character gets to have it both ways in the end. He gets to come off as this pure, his word;his bond type gentlemen. When in the previous scene he gives a complete opposite impression with his co-star in the frame. He makes it perfectly clear he does not like his morals and perceived lack of character. He expresses to the other person is gonna be in his “back pocket” for the rest of his days.

  105. BrianB and JTS — I look at the Johnson speech as necessary because cop movies have primed us to accept a fairly high level of extreme behavior by the cops. There’s tons of cop movies which have cops do worse stuff than these two do to Noel G and expect the audience not to get too hung up about it. We need to understand, specifically and memorably, that these guys (or at least Ridgeman) are not just normal fascist movie cops, they’re straight-up Breitbart racists. This point needs to be clear, explicit. The speech is so jarring that you can’t help but notice it, and it lingers over everything else they do for the rest of the movie, especially for the final sequence with Ridgeman and Johns. By that time, the movie has neatly disposed of any thoughts you might have that Ridgeman really has any interest in law, or protecting the innocent, or even in helping his family. The only thing left is that he’s such a hateful bastard that he might still ruin one more thing. The way I see it, that’s the crux of the whole finale, and I think it only works because the opening is so unexpectedly over-the-line that it’s still hanging there as a big question mark by the end.

    I mean, I guess in that sense it’s a plot device more than a direct, sweeping condemnation of racism, but I defy anyone to tell me we’re not supposed to be on Johns’ side at the end. And if that’s true, we’ve got to be sitting there sweating about how much of a threat this racist, angry cop is to him. Since that seems to me the entire dramatic crux of the finale, I can’t imagine how we’re supposed to see his hateful ethos as anything but a negative. And certainly we’re no longer buying his self-pity by that point.

  106. I won’t go so far to argue that this movie makes a powerful anti-racism argument, but I still do not think it endorses the behavior of its racist characters. In fact, I see the main arc of the movie being about Gibson being a toxic, hypocritical piece of shit whose obviously amoral actions, despite his longwinded justifications about how he’s owed this and that no one will get hurt, lead to SPOILERS a massacre at a bank and the deaths of his best friend and himself.

  107. Majestyk: agree on Detroit. Couldn’t do it. This at least had a bit of pulpy fun about it. It is gross though.

    Mr. Subtlety: you articulated a lot of what I liked about the movie. I do think it has a morality.

    Dan P: I agree with that, too. I think it has interesting observations on the current state of racism rather than any clear opinions on what people should do differently.

    I would call this movie a farce. A grim one, but still. I think it paints every character as ultimately rather absurd.

    I think it’s almost bizarre that many articles and reviewers see the parents’ reaction to the orange soda assault as the filmmaker’s opinion of it. I mean, he SHOWS you the actual assault. He could have portrayed it any way he wanted, and he portrayed it as something…. not that bad. Worse than that has happened to me. Hell, i’ve done similar shit (that I regret!) to other people as a kid- stupid stuff to impress other kids who weren’t worth impressing. I think if a viewer felt seriously threatened by that fairly harmless assault, they might want to examine their own perception of black people. A lot of white people are considerably more threatened by a group of black teenagers than white teenagers, when in fact you can trust no teenagers ever as they have a reduced capacity for rational decision making, impulse control, and empathy.

  108. If Zahler really wanted us to see these cops as over-the-top racists, he wouldn’t have their punishments play out in such a contrived way. If this stuff went down in Chicago or Baltimore instead of “Bulwark,” everyone reading this knows what would really happen: Ridgeman and Lurasetti go off active duty for a while, with pay, pending an internal review; the police put out a press release about the apprehension of a high-end drug trafficker; and the video makes the local news for a couple days, tops. You can’t say that Calvert is a cartoonish villain while he’s being stricter with abusive cops than his counterparts in the real world.

    It’s a lot like DIRTY HARRY. Again, a cop is punished for going overboard, more harshly than he would be real life. And again, we see that the cop is genuinely violent and sadistic, like when Callahan tortures Scorpio in the stadium. You can call this nuance if you’re being charitable and call it bet-hedging if you’re not, but it’s not a coherent argument against police racism.

  109. I’m glad you liked it, Subtlety, and I hope it plays more like that for me when I watch it again some day. But I’m skeptical. For example, I want to be convinced by Humaniac’s argument that the parents’ reaction to the soda pouring is meant to be absurd, but then why do they mention four other assaults that are never detailed, and have the shot of (I think the same?) kids breaking into a place across the street as he looks on in disgust? I would love to be wrong but I think we’re really supposed to believe it’s a dangerous neighborhood. We also have one person here arguing that the parents did nothing wrong, for whatever that’s worth. That’s how it plays to some people.

    I think it feels less like an anti-racism moral than a “both sides” type of argument. Don’t you think we’re supposed to like Ridgeman in the traditional anti-hero way? I don’t think he’s a Travis Bickle where you’re supposed to be creeped out by him the whole time, do you?

  110. Humaniac: Zahler really draws that soda-tossing scene out, having the kid circle around like a bird of prey, building it up to be as menacing as possible. When he finally throws his drink, well, I suppose you can take that as bathetic anti-climax. Certainly in real life the sensible reaction would be to treat it as an annoying prank, and not horrible abuse from aspiring thugs. But is that really the film’s view of things? Everyone in the movie seems to think that the black neighbourhood is an urban hellscape to be escaped at all costs, and that includes the black characters.

    It’s important to point out that just by showing that tossed drink, Zahler is making these kids unrealistically violent. In the real world, they would definitely be aware that the girl’s parents are both cops. They would not try to bully her.

  111. Mr. S, thank you for clarifying, but I still don’t get how that anti-media speech is meant to impress upon us the supposedly important fact that Ridgeman is very racist. I don’t see how it does that. I don’t get how you go from “the scene is jarring” to “therefore he is very racist.”

    I also still don’t agree that racism is what brings him down. His treatment of Johns was certainly not “hateful.”

  112. I’d also incline more toward Mr. Subtlety’s reading if the movie didn’t have so many characters stating that Ridgemann is really good at his job and cares so much about his work and doing it well, in addition to how much Ridgemann talks that way about himself. Ridgemann’s constant percentages become a joke after awhile but it’s only partially in cheek as many of his assessments turn out to be on the mark. But maybe a rewatch would change my mind?

  113. Are they they same kids? I didn’t get a good look. Are we supposed to question our perceptions in that case as well? (Do all black people look alike?). When I rewatch, if I think those are 100% the same kids, I will for sure concede that I gave Zahler too much credit.

    I think we can assume the “five assaults in TWO YEARS” (emphasis mine) are similar incidents, being described by Ridgeman in exaggerated terms. Would you say your kid was “assaulted” if he got soda thrown on him? Bullied, harassed, maybe? I think *he* definitely thinks those are the same kids breaking into that house…

    A lot of people to this day do not see Travis Bickle as despicable. Lot of folks don’t realize what a racist he is either (more so in the script of course). I think the 40 years of intense discussion of that film may have been less kind to that character than the film itself. I think the film kinda worships him, actually.

  114. I’m not sure. I didn’t make that connection that it’s definitely the same kids when watching vs. gee this neighborhood really is rough and how Gibson has decided to abdicate being a cop/law enforcer because he doesn’t remotely attempt to notify or call anybody.

    As for Travis Bickle, not sure I can agree with that. I’d be interested to see the venn diagram of the number of people who interpret TAXI DRIVER’s final scene as a fantasy/dream of dead/dying man and the people who think the movie lionizes Travis. It’s pretty hard to lionize a guy who reacts to getting rejected by trying to assassinate a presidential candidate (then later killing a bunch of other people in a somewhat similar situation), and that guy tried to have his first date be at a seedy porno theater. Being largely tethered to a character’s POV doesn’t necessarily mean adoring worship.

    People misinterpret movies. That’s just the way it goes. Unfortunately, plenty of anti-war movies were/are seen as pro-war by some. And you’ll get satires where people really miss the point. For instance, STARSHIP TROOPERS, AMERICAN PSYCHO, and (to a less bombastic degree) FIGHT CLUB all come to mind. I’m sure there are some bellends who also think THE WOLF OF WALL STREET glorifies and worships Jordan Belfort too.

  115. Viewers are idiots. For years and years I’d hear people lionising Gordon Gekko and saying that “greed is good.” Then I finally saw Oliver Stone’s WALL STREET, and Gekko is as villainous as you can get. If he had a moustache he’d be twirling it.

  116. I think any notion that you’re supposed to like Ridgeman goes right out the window when they see the aftermath of the bank robbery. Lurasetti is horrified and correctly points out that, by allowing the crime to take place, they are morally culpable for the murders. And Ridgeman brushes it off with more horseshit justifications.

    So, no, personally I don’t think he’s a traditional, likeable antihero in the same sense that Johns and Lurasetti are. The movie is specifically about what an awful person he’s become.

  117. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

    Vern, BrianB, and Matthew B (hey, are you two B’s related?):To me the most telling line in the movie is when Johns ashamedly explains to Ridgeman that he was told no one would be killed, and Ridgeman contemptuously tells him “Did you believe that? Or did you want to believe that?”

    That would sting, except that we know Ridgeman used that exact same lie on his partner. You know, the one who’s now lying dead, next to the hostage he shot in the face. If you can hear that line and still think we’re supposed to be on Ridgeman’s side, or believe anything he has to say, I don’t know what to tell you.

    I may have overstated my case by claiming the movie is “anti-racist,” because that suggests it has some kind of moral lesson you’re supposed to learn as the point of the story. I don’t think that, but I do think the movie tells you in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways that for all his bluster, Ridgeman is just an angry, selfish guy whose problems are entirely of his own making, despite his constant attempts to blame everyone else (which, in fact, goes a long way towards explaining his racism). I suppose you could argue that he’s an anti-hero, in the sense that we’re supposed to be interested in his story (he’s certainly the protagonist of the film, at least in the sense that he’s clearly the one who motivates the plot) but as far as I’m concerned, the arc of the movie is about his bullshit being exposed for what it is.

    Some examples: Vern points out that Johns is living in a very Lee Daniels world, whereas Ridgeman has a perfectly comfortable-looking working-class apartment. To me, the conclusion is in the inevitable comparison: Ridgeman’s situation, for all his bitterness, is vastly superior to Johns, and yet instead of being content, he’s angrier and greedier and more vicious. He blames everyone else –the media, the cops, “politics,”– for his professional failures, but even his former partner basically points out to him that he could easily have a well-paying managerial job by now if he’d just played the game a little (I think it’s relevant that he points out that Ridgeman is actually worse than he used to be — if the movie has any kind of moral, it’s that Ridgeman’s slide into destructive vindictiveness was slow enough that he may not have noticed it himself). He claims he “does good police work” and “doesn’t politic,” and that explains his lack of success, suggesting that he put his morals before his promotion. But of course, this self-aggrandizing moral sentinel doesn’t bat an eye about robbing a bank when he doesn’t get his way. In fact, he goes out of his way to avoid calling the police, even when it becomes clear it would have saved lives. You know that nice young woman with the baby who’s face got blown off? The guy who could have saved her with one phone call was sitting in a car outside, sulking because he hasn’t been promoted.

    And as for his laughable claims about his daughter “being assaulted,” look at his face when he tries to pull that shit on Johns. He can’t even look at him. He might have used that little lie to work himself up to this, but now, with something like a half-dozen dead bodies on his hands, the idea that he selflessly did all this to keep his daughter from getting another soda poured on her is so grotesquely absurd even he can hardly bring himself to trot it out, and certainly knows it’s bullshit even as he says it.

    The movie leaves just barely enough room for us to wonder if he’ll eventually manage to redeem himself in some way (that’s where casting Mel, who we can’t help but like a LITTLE, despite everything, pays off) though it brilliantly leaves that question unresolved. You may think it doesn’t condemn him enough, which is certainly understandable; you may find that this issue is simply too painful and too close to home for you to enjoy a movie with a character like this, which is also completely understandable. I can 100% respect why someone might feel that way, and I think it probably speaks well of you if you do. But I just can’t add all that those details up to an interpretation which supports Ridgeman’s point-of-view. I almost don’t see how it could be clearer about undermining everything he says, and systematically demonstrating that he’s just a selfish, hypocritical old coot who ends up reaping what he sowed. We not be meant to learn a moral lesson from all this, but we certainly aren’t left thinking Ridgeman is validated in any way.

    I mean, for Christ’s sake, the movie’s biggest laugh is probably Johns incredulously having to tell him he’s definitely not going to give his family 40% after all that. Ridgeman’s chagrined reaction is priceless, you can practically hear him think “Oh yeah, I guess not, now. Shit, this one’s probably on me.” It’s the one moment in the whole film where he seems to be vaguely aware he has some fault in all this. And it’s right as he fucking DIES! If we’re laughing at a character while he’s losing the one thing he’s been trying to get the entire movie –and dying at the same time!– I think it’s safe to say the movie is not on his side.

    Not that you should feel compelled to support a movie which is definitely full of problematic elements, and certainly leans into its provocations in a way which is at best crass and at worst pretty cynical. But I do feel quite comfortable arguing that the way it repeatedly challenges Ridgeman’s worldview is not just hedging, it’s the whole point of his character arc. I do not believe it is a “very fine people on both sides” movie, although it still might find its not-so-fine character more compelling than you might feel is worthwhile or justified.

    SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

  118. I don’t think the movie hero worships Gibson or endorses his POV fully, or else I might’ve had a bigger problem with it. Ultimately, I read many of those moments as more ambiguous and “complex” than you did, Mr. S. (Gibson’s continued inaction becomes unjustifiable after awhile, but he’s only so morally culpable for the bank robbery given how quickly it unfolds and how incomplete the information they have is. But that also is a bad look for him because he’s reckless with how he handles things going forward, and it’s a mix of weak justification and needing to stage the shootout for why he and Vaughn never call in things to the cops while they are tailing the man.) Are many of the ironies and hypocrises with Gibson’s character, particularly at the end, really all that hilarious? I suppose you could look at Vince Vaughn’s phone message from his girlfriend as dark comedy too. But I’m not sure I’d call it drop onto the floor funny–the same goes for Ridgeman’s death. It is stupid, but it’s also sensible and inevitable from what we’ve seen of his character–which is basically a more pathetic take on the Peckinpah protagonist of the professional who does what he does well, lives by his code, and struggles to survive in an indifferent to hostile world that compels him to grapple with professional and personal agony.

    I also agree he didn’t do it for his daughter. He did it because he was pissed off and felt underappreciated and undercompensated for the work he put in. He’d become too far gone to appreciate he’s crossed lines, and so when he gets suspended and really feels unappreicated, he says I’m going to get mine.

  119. van* (accidently replied too early)

    And Ridgeman is both competent enough and incompetent enough to effectively make the whole situation a giant clusterfuck.

  120. A ton of layers going on in this thing…

    Look at it this way: the mother has a major aliment right? She’s helpless to protect her kid. She feels worthless and resigned to that fact. She desperately wants for her child to grow up, at least what’s left of her childhood in a safe, peaceful manner. She talks of past incidents with her and how things are escalating. Tells Mel she wants to go back to work to help in any way she can. He’s getting an earful – any husbands out there are quite familiar with such a thing whatever the topic at hand… He doesn’t want her to work since the mere action of cutting food drives her to pain. So we’re seeing the pressure mounting on Mel even more.

    OK, so go back to the previous scene with Mel and Don. Don is “attempting” to school, guide (whatever you want to call it) Mel with going home with the suspension to spend that time with his wife and child. Bond with them type of thing. Use the time wisely. Giving good advice I thought. And you can see in Mel’s acting he doesn’t want to hear that stuff **this is how I read it on his face*** I could dead wrong. Justthesame, you can see on Don’s face after he excuses him he feels remorse for Mel going astray in his career. He tells him you were never this rough with a suspect while we were partners. (Mel says, “so.”) He’s taken aback by the wear and tear all these years have accumulated on him. And how if he proceeds the same way it’s gonna go bad for him. No person can keep up year after year being out there in the cold and chasing bad guys.

    Back to where we were at his apartment with his family. They’re all on the couch watching an animal program and it relates to him showing the (I forget which) mamma lion looking after the baby cub. Obliviously the parallel is too much for Mel to bear so he goes out into the night looking for a lead. So he simply can’t take Don’s advice to stay at his crib with his family. Feeling pressure from all angles now: Job, loss of money, wife getting desperate and lastly his daughter’s well-being. He has to go and try to alleviate the situation the only way he knows how I suppose.

    If you want to go even more meta – go back to Don’s speech about how being “tagged” a racist in this society is tantamount to death presently. Zahler puts in the line about “whether you’re on a ‘private phone call’ or arresting a drug dealer who deals to children”

    Well, that’s what happened to Gibson in real life correct (phone calls his girlfriend secretly recorded him)? Of course his first trouble was when he got a dui, while bitching at the cop for arresting him and being a belligerent, drunk bastard. The Hollywood crowd pounced on him for saying the thing about Jews starting all the wars, etc. That was when he went to Hollywood jail but the capper came later with the recorded phone calls he was having with his estranged fiancé when she leaked them out. So Zahler threw that line in there for???? To be cute? To be subversive? To be a maverick? To show how Mel really didn’t do all the much for all the grief he endured? Hell, I guess it’s whatever the viewer takes from it themselves.

  121. Zahler has stated in several interviews that he didn’t write the script for Gibson or change anything for him. But I think I can objectively say as someone who has written very positively about subsequent Gibson movies including BLOOD FATHER, GET THE GRINGO and HACKSAW RIDGE that it is very reasonable to not feel comfortable supporting someone when you know he said the fucking vile things he said in those recordings, whether or not it was a private phone call (threatening his girlfriend). To pretend like it’s just some pansy overly sensitive thing to be offended by it is straight up bullshit and I am embarrassed to have comments on outlawvern.com if we’re gonna go down that road.

    (I’m enjoying all the positive interpretations of this movie though.)

  122. p.s. Maybe I misunderstood and you weren’t trying to defend him from “the Hollywood crowd,” or maybe you forgot the specifics of what he said. I’m not trying to be personal, but I am trying to draw a line.

  123. If you use the N word like Mel did that makes you racist.

  124. Mr. S.: Yeah, Ridgeman is flawed, and ultimately those flaws get him killed. I think Zahler’s script stacks the deck a little too much in his favour sometimes, but it doesn’t outright endorse Ridgeman’s viewpoint.

    That’s orthogonal to the film’s take on racism and systemic police brutality. It doesn’t explore that stuff in a serious way at all. I’ll grant that the “stealth alt-right” rumours seem overblown — the impression I get is that he’s importing atmosphere from the genre movies he loves, he’s vaguely aware that those things are full of retrograde stereotypes, and he just doesn’t give a shit. But he’s otherwise so thoughtful and meticulous that this stuff is more frustrating than it would be coming from, say, a Pierre Morel.

  125. SPOILERS SPOILERS

    BrianB — All I know is that the line about 40% got a big laugh from the (small) audience I saw it with, myself included (a lot of it is probably in Kittles’ very funny, slightly aggrieved reading). I definitely think it’s meant as dark comedy, just like Vaughn’s excellent underplaying of “the answer was… yeah, not what I wanted to hear,” and then Ridgeman’s well-meaning but ridiculous offer to smash his phone for him (which turns out to be harder than he probably imagined). That both of these guys get awkward, mordantly funny deaths seems relevant to me, especially given that Biscuit gets to be a little more heroic when he goes out, defiantly eating the key to fuck with his killers.

    Matthew B. — I can definitely see your point there. At the very least, even if the film ultimately undermines Ridgeman’s bullshit, it’s certainly only interested in his racism and police brutality as a narrative and character device. There’s certainly an argument to be made that this approach in itself is a little irresponsible (you could easily consider this and THREE BILLBOARDS… part of the same problem, though at least McDonagh has the defense that he’s not an American and consequently doesn’t quite understand American sensitivity to this issue). In fact, I’d go so far as to wonder if it’s really the issue that defines art criticism right now: to what extent can or should art be separated from politics, morality, and culture? Is viewing art as a purely aesthetic object essentially an endorsement of the status quo, and consequently an artifact of white supremacy (at least in the American context)?

  126. Midwest Captain Feeney

    April 25th, 2019 at 3:52 pm

    I watched it last week, and I’ve dug into as many director interviews as I can find. I don’t know. The writing and casting seems more intended to provoke in the spirit of exploitation rather than preach ideology.

    I’d loved this movie. When I saw the running time months back, I was super disappointed. But the movie is both small scale, epic, and tense. It’s the best movie I’ve seen this year.

    I think the readings of this movie are wrong, but who knows. The director could be human garbage, but I certainly hope not. I can’t wait to see his next piece.

    And Gibson gives an incredible performance. I’m surprised by Vern’s take on this one.

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