7 May 2019

Does Liking This Film Make Me A Bad Person?

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People think that Mel Gibson directed the two-hour torture-fuckery that was The Passion Of The Christ because of his religious beliefs and desire to tell that aspect of our saviour's life. But did anybody consider that he really just wanted to direct a film in which a Jewish guy gets the shit kicked out of him for two hours? Not even any old Jewish guy but the king of the Jewish guys! It's certainly possible, isn't it? Because if there's one thing that we all know about Mel Gibson it's that he hates the jews. Oh and don't get him started on black people or what the collective term for them might be. If the domestic abuse allegations are anything to go by, I think it's fair to say that he's not too fond of women either. Who can also forget his views on gay people from an early 90's interview in which he simply pointed at his own arse-hole and stated that “this is only for taking a shit”? Presumably, he then went on to point at his own mouth and claim, “and this is for talking shit”. If all of that wasn't bad enough, it's also worth remembering that he was one of the people involved in Daddy's Home 2 which was a fucking hate crime against all of humanity in one fell swoop.

With all of this in mind, you can, therefore, imagine the raised eyebrows when it was announced that Gibson would be playing a racist cop in writer/director S. Craig Zahler's Dragged Across Concrete. I mean it's basically the role he's been preparing for all of his life, isn't it? Talk about going method! Sure, De Niro drove a taxi before doing Taxi Driver but Gibson has literally dedicated his life to screaming batshit obscenities at the top of his lungs. I can also see why Zahler would want to cast Gibson in that role as, beyond the fact that Gibson is an incredible actor with a history of playing anti-hero cops, who else are you going to believe more like an unhinged racist than an unhinged fucking racist? But what I don't understand is why Gibson signed on to play the role? Sure it plays to all of his strengths but don't celebrities try to distance themselves from their real-life controversies? Imagine if Richard Gere actually did shove those gerbils up his own arse, like everybody said he did, but to the point that it ruined his career. Then imagine if after years of being unemployable Gere slowly began to make a comeback and it was at that point he decided to make a film about a man that shoves gerbils up his own fucking arse. You wouldn't be able to believe it would you? Personally, I'd end up going through all of his previous movies to look for the scars that prove that he blinks like that because he's had a fucking lobotomy.

This is Zahler's third film after the incredible Bone Tomahawk and its equally brutal Brawl In Cell Block 99 which, along with Dragged Across Concrete, means that he at least knows a cool fucking title when he hears one. In each of his movies, Zahler takes a schlocky, B-movie idea and then turns it into a character study with incredible actors and a running time that's even less forgiving on the arse than fucking Gibson is with the certain races. Zahler's films spend the bulk of their time with very little happening in terms of the plot before concluding with scenes of such intense violence that the credits should include advice on how to deal with fucking PTSD. In Dragged Across Concrete Gibson and his partner Vince Vaughn are suspended after having been filmed stamping on a suspect's head whilst dropping the occasional racial slur. At no point does the film ever hugely judge the characters for doing this though, beyond Gibson's boss Don Johnson casually mentioning that he's going a little off the rails. In fact, when Gibson and Vaughn are being suspended by Johnson, the three of them rant about the way that the real problem with the modern world is the intolerance of the media and the way technology can so easily be used to catch you saying something controversial. Considering that this is the exact thing that has already happened to Gibson in real life I was genuinely expecting the scene to end with the actors going silent and then all turning to stare directly into the fucking camera.

From here, Gibson and Vaughn decide to make a bit of money by ripping some criminals off but that sounds a lot more exciting than the film is for the most part. Because really the film is just Vaughn and Gibson sitting in a car and watching a building. They don't even do much talking really. Just quite a bit of sighing in the way that most of us do when reading another headline with Gibson's name in it. However, I don't want to imply that this movie is boring because in honesty I was gripped from the opening fucking second of it. Firstly I really couldn't believe the things that the characters were saying and which the film seemed to be leaving unchallenged. Gibson's wife, an ex-cop herself, at one point, claims that she used to be as liberal as you could be until living in a predominantly black area turned her racist. This conversation takes place after we see their daughter harassed by a gang of young black guys when on her way home. Gibson's character agrees with his wife and vows to find a way to get his family away from them. What?? This is the point in the alternate reality version of this movie in which Richard Gere would be agreeing with his wife that gerbils are annoying to pull out of your arse before cutting to a shot of a gerbil cackling maniacally and sharpening its claws. My brain really just couldn't quite believe what it was seeing which is pretty impressive for a near three-hour movie in which basically nothing happens for at least two-thirds of that.

Secondly, I couldn't help but love it because, despite his obviously problematic place in our pop-culture world, I really do love Mel Gibson as an actor. I mean, it's clear that the man is deranged and, as a result, he tends to make batshit movies in which he plays characters that are clearly on the edge. For better or worse, there really isn't anybody with a screen presence like him. I don't think I'm alone in loving Mad Max and Lethal Weapon but I also recommend his recent film Blood Father which came out before the incredible Logan but is also basically the exact same film. The difference being that when Wolverine gets angry I'm in awe of Hugh Jackman's acting ability but when Gibson gets angry a bit of wee comes out of me and I wonder if he should have seen a therapist instead of his agent. Dragged Across Concrete obviously contains an incredible performance from the mad bastard but, as a film, it also has the kind of extremes that I want from something with him in. As a result and despite whatever the fuck the message of this film might be, it's hard to deny that it really is incredibly well made. Its slow pace serves to pull you in rather than bore you and so when the action does break out it's not only incredibly well choreographed but you're fully invested in everyone involved. Is this film right-wing? Fuck yes. But isn't every action film right wing? Keanu Reeves is a Buddhist and even his John Wick slaughters hundreds of people after a thief kills his fucking puppy.

But with Dragged Across Concrete, there was a question running through my mind throughout, “should I be enjoying this?”. I mean if John Wick wants to kill some dog murderers then I'm all for that but should I be okay with these fucking racists getting away with their various schemes? Imagine getting a pamphlet through the door from UKIP and finding the writing so enjoyable that you don't end up posting it back to them with a fucking brick attached to it. Obviously, I never agreed with anything that Gibson, Vaughn, or Johnson said, but it was never apparent how the film itself felt about them. Even now I'm still not entirely sure. Zahler himself has claimed that the film has no agenda and simply follows the characters to their natural conclusion and without judgement. But he created the characters, he contrived the events that dictated their circumstances, and he cast the film as knowingly as he did. So to claim the movie has no agenda when every single aspect of its controversy has been conceived by Zahler himself seems a little like bullshit. Kind of like Tom Cruise's Collateral hitman shooting somebody off a building and then claiming that it was actually “the bullet and the fall that killed them”. In the end though, I think that the film's saving grace is the depiction of one of the criminals that Gibson and Vaughn are staking out, a black guy played brilliantly by Tory Kittles. I don't want to spoil his story and he's not in any way a morally pure character. But the arc that he goes on, the nuance of his decisions, and the clear sympathetic light that we see him in is definitely not the kind of thing that you'd find in an explicitly racist film.

So, in the end, I think that Zahler is probably kind of a dick. If he wasn't as smart as he clearly is and if he spent his time leaving comments online instead of making incredible movies, then he'd be what the kids call an 'edge-lord'. I think that his genuine agenda is to make a film that will annoy and upset people and although I'm not sure why you'd want to do that or if this is even the right time to be doing that... I'm kind of glad that he did because I thought the film was great. At the very least, Dragged Across Concrete has prompted more interesting debates than any safer movies in the genre and I think that's a good thing? There's also no denying that something that exists in a more morally dubious place is a hell of a lot more watchable than something that spends two hours preaching to the converted. His depiction of women here can't hugely be defended with almost every single one of them being a victim in one way or another. But in terms of race, I think that the film is ultimately being provocative for the sake of it. That still doesn't explain why Gibson thought it'd be a good idea for him to do but considering he's the man that called an arresting police-officer “sugar-tits” I'm not sure that we should ever expect to understand his thought process. Thanks for reading and see you again, motherfuckers.

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