S. Craig Zahler on Dragged Across Concrete: 'I'm not making this movie to make a political point'

S. Craig Zahler on Dragged Across Concrete: 'I'm not making this movie to make a political point'

American director discusses his contentious cop drama, starring Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson

Back in the 1970s, films like Dirty Harry and The French Connection celebrated rogue cops. But with real-life police brutality so prevalent, it's different now. Which is probably why S. Craig Zahler's Dragged Across Concrete has left some critics up in arms. The story of two cops suspended for aggressive force, The Daily Beast dubbed it a 'vile, racist, right-wing fantasy'.

Already Zahler's earlier films – the grisly western Bone Tomahawk and prison movie Brawl In Cell Block 99 – were accused of depicting violence towards minorities. Meanwhile, Cinestate, the company behind all three of his movies, is viewed by some as making films for the Donald Trump-supporting masses. But is it that simple? 'I'm not making this movie to make a political point,' argues the pony-tailed Zahler.

Of course it doesn't help that the actors playing these racist cops are Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson, noted Hollywood conservatives. 'It certainly doesn't come from a place of wanting to condemn police officers, nor say that these are flawless people who don't make mistakes,' says Zahler. '[In policing] you're exposed to a lot of bad stuff and that doesn't mean that you're going to make the right decisions every day of your life. It's a hard job. I wouldn't want to do it.'

A novelist (of pulp westerns and crime novels) and musician (in metal band Realmbuilder), the 46 year-old Zahler could almost belong to another era. He cites Dog Day Afternoon's Sidney Lumet and Dirty Harry's Don Siegel among his key influences. Like his predecessors, he wanted to explore the corrosive effects of police work. 'If you're on the concrete for that many years,' he asks, 'where are you and where is your sensitivity?'

As Gibson's grizzled Ridgeman ropes Vaughn's family man cop Lurasetti into a heist during their suspension, so Dragged forces you to question the morality of these two beleaguered cops. 'Certain people are going to relate to them more than others and certain people are going to be really put off by what they do,' shrugs Zahler, who makes no apologies for creating contentious characters.

Zahler has also scripted comedy-horror Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, also released this week in UK cinemas, but he promises his next film will be 'very different'. The Jim Henson Company – the team behind The Muppets – is developing Zahler's latest novel, 'gothic orphan tale' Hug Chickenpenny: The Panegyric of an Anomalous Child. Will it be controversial? Don't bet against it.

Dragged Across Concrete and Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich are released in cinemas on Fri 19 Apr.

Dragged Across Concrete

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • USA
  • 2h 39min
  • 18
  • Directed by: S Craig Zahler
  • Cast: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Laurie Holden, Tory Kittles
  • UK release: 19 April 2019

Henry (Kittles) is an ex-con who finds himself in conflict with disgraced lawmen Ridgeman (Gibson) and Lurasetti (Vaughn). It’s an epic grindhouse thriller with multiple exploding craniums but Gibson is on his best form for years, and Zahler will one day make a classic in the Don Siegel vain, even if this patchy but…