One last job. The big score. For those in desperate need, taking that almighty risk is the key to everlasting happiness. Movies have taught us that crime pays, but as is often the case, those who choose to break the law end up paying for their risky decisions. These stories have been told countless times, yet we as audiences keep coming back to them. That’s because nothing is more exciting than rooting for characters who are willing to risk it all in exchange for a better tomorrow.
S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete is the latest crime caper to tell such a tale. In the movie, we follow a few down-on-their-luck dudes who desperately need that big payoff. On one side we have Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Antony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), a pair of dirty cops who get suspended without pay for getting too rough with a drug dealer and his lover. On the other, we have Henry Johns (Tory Kittles) and Biscuit (Michael Jai White), two lifelong friends and low-level criminals. Then we have the masked robbers whose stolen gold is the object of everyone’s attention. When all paths eventually cross, it becomes a game of survival of the fittest.
The characters who need the money most, however, are Ridgeman and Johns. The cop wants to move his family out of their rough neighborhood before something bad happens to his daughter… again. Meanwhile, Johns needs the income so his drug-addled mother can give up illegal sex work and he can take care of his disabled brother. Both men will do what it takes to provide for their families, and despite being on opposing sides, their motivations for committing crime are similar.
When we meet Johns, he’s just been released from prison and has returned home to find his mother entertaining a gentleman caller. After confronting the horny fool and having words with his mom about her lifestyle, Johns decides to play some video games with his little brother, Ethan (Myles Truitt). The video game in question is a jungle adventure where players must shoot lions in order to survive. They’re difficult beasts to defeat and Johns needs Ethan to lead the way, but he’s thrilled when he finally smokes one.
Elsewhere, when Ridgeman returns home following his suspension, he settles down for the evening to watch television. His choice of viewing is a nature show about lion cubs. Unlike Johns, the detective doesn’t show any desire to put a bullet in the creatures. But they do fascinate him. Afterward, he leaves the apartment to start his new life as a criminal.
Lions are commonly regarded as the rulers of the animal kingdom. The kings of the jungle. Top of the food chain. Symbolically, they represent strength, courage, valor, might, and other admirable characteristics. Keep this in mind, as it becomes more of a factor later on.
Following their respective experience with lion-centric entertainment, Johns and Ridgeman’s fates soon become intertwined. Along with Biscuits, Johns takes the job as a getaway driver for the masked robbers who Ridgeman and his partner plan on stealing from. After a long stakeout, the cops follow them to a storage base where a shootout commences. The masked criminals also decide that they no longer have any use for Johns and Biscuits, which leads to the former rushing to a safe spot after his buddy is taken out. Shortly after, Ridgeman and Lurasetti appear and a shootout commences between the detectives and their opposition.
Of course, with this being a Zahler movie, a lot of people get killed. When the gunfire finally ends, the only remaining survivors are Johns and Ridgeman. After exchanging some words and realizing they have similar goals, the desperate men make a deal to split the profits 60-40.
However, after learning that Johns captured the shootout on his cell, Ridgeman pulls a gun on his like-minded counterpart and takes a bullet for his troubles. Before he passes away, though, he asks Johns to make sure his family is seen to. Sympathetic to his situation, Johns agrees and sticks to his word.
Cut to 11 months later. Johns is living in a fancy new oceanside house and his family is finally comfortable. Upon arriving home that day, he finds Ethan playing video games again and grabs a controller for himself. After informing his younger sibling that all of his mean business has been taken care of, Johns asks him if he still has the jungle adventure game they played before. Ethan shows his big bro where it’s at and they immediately pick up from where their previous game finished.
The movie ends with Johns staring at the screen and saying “Let’s hunt some lions.” The look in his eye suggests that perhaps his business isn’t quite over yet. Like Ridgeman, he used to see lions and dream of someday being top of the food chain. And now that Johns has acquired wealth, he’s ready to become a king of the jungle in his own right. Why should he settle for what he has when there’s more lions to be hunted and potential gold to be found? Only next time, there’s no telling whether or not he’ll survive.