S. Craig Zahler‘s Dragged Across Concrete (3.22) is a dead fucking brilliant exercise in slow-burn, element-by-element, ultra-violent urban action melodrama. It’s longish (158 minutes) and methodical and about as riveting as this kind of step-by-step ensemble crime film gets. It may be the best rightwing (if morally corrupted) urban action flick since Man on Fire. It takes its time, you bet, but once the disparate characters and plot threads start falling into place and it all starts to pay off like a slot machine, watch out.

It offers the best snarly-tough-guy performance from Mel Gibson in ages, another excellent turn from Vince Vaughn (his best since that True Detective criminal he played during season #2) and a serious pop-through turn by Tory Kittles, who looks like a slightly older Jussie Smollett.

Dragged Across Concrete is like a politically conservative Jackie Brown without the mellow, likably laid-back lead performances from Robert Forster and Pam Grier, although Gibson and Vaughn are kind of brusquely charming in their roguishly rightwing, fuck-all deadpan way. Like Jackie Brown it waits and waits and reflects and reflects and then talks and talks and talks some more, and then finally, around the 100-minute mark, wham.

It’s basically a talkfest thing that waits until Act Three to bring out the hardware and spill the vino. At 154 minutes, Jackie Brown is only four minutes shorter.

On the other hand, Quentin Tarantino never wrote a scene in which bank robbers cut open a dead guy’s stomach cavity and then his actual stomach in search of a swallowed key, especially with one of them saying “don’t cut open the liver…the smell is awful, especially a black guy’s.” What?

If you have any regard for this kind of thing — spare and lean, character-rich, laconic Peckinpah on painkillers, well-crafted dialogue, violent, far from lazily paced but in no particular hurry, flicked with despair and anxiety and every character being either a behind-the-eight-baller or a victim — Dragged Across Concrete is absolutely essential viewing.

The urban action thriller handbook says you always accelerate the pace when the third act arrives. Zahler is one of those “fuck the handbook” types. Just before a climatic bank robbing scene he suddenly shifts our attention to a late 30something bank officer (Jennifer Carpenter) returning to work after maternity leave. And yet she can’t bear the thought of a nine-hour absence from her infant son, and so she returns to her apartment for a final snuggle before heading to work. That’s all I’m going to describe, but I will never forget this character.

Hats off to Summit Entertainment for doing a brilliant job of muffling or minimizing the buzz on this startling film, which I regard as easily the second best of 2019’s first quarter, right behind Kent JonesDiane (IFC Films, 3.29).

To my knowledge Summit has screened Concrete twice (in Lionsgate’s West L.A. screening room) over the last few days. I had to appeal to a fellow journalist to obtain a screening link. Costar Vince Vaughn will do a discussion following a Hollywood Arclight screening this evening. I’d love to drop by and “cover”, but only on my own dime. A Summit rep said they have no journo comps.