The cinematic worldview of filmmaker S. Craig Zahler (“Bone Tomahawk,” “Brawl in Cell Block 99”) is bleak, uncompromising and hard-boiled. His latest film, “Dragged Across Concrete,” which premieres at Venice with Lionsgate distributing domestically under its Summit Entertainment label, figures to be no exception. Centered on two volatile police officers, one a veteran (Mel Gibson) and one on the rise (Vince Vaughn), Zahler’s twisty and explosive narrative explores how good men do bad things to protect and support their families during times of desperation. Zahler continues to wear multiple creative hats, serving as co-composer, writer and director, solidifying himself as a down-and-dirty auteur in the making.
Zahler is fast developing a particular brand of macho entertainment, and he’s curated a revolving group of crewmembers and now actors and actresses who will follow him anywhere. “I love working with the same people. On ‘Brawl’ I got to work with Vince Vaughn, Don Johnson, Jennifer Carpenter, Fred Melamed and Udo Kier, and then we all got back together for ‘Concrete,’” Zahler says, adding that “with very few exceptions I don’t write characters with any actors in mind.” When the opportunity to collaborate with Gibson presented itself, he knew he had to take it. “Mel was great to work with, and he delivers a low-key, understated performance. He’s got that innate understanding of voice cadence, and really, there was nobody better for the role.”
It’s also worth noting that Zahler is a novelist, and he’s taken a unique approach to his onscreen storytelling as a result of working in both mediums. “When I imagine something, I’m always thinking about how I can make it the best possible version of itself, of what I’m imagining. And I’m aware that there are people out there who would have liked a 90-minute version of ‘Brawl,’ something a bit more conventional. But that’s not me.” On the horizon is a “Gothic fable in black and white, something completely unlike my previous films. It’s called ‘Hug Chickenpenny: The Panegyric of an Anomalous Child,’ and it’s based on my book. I’m developing it with the Jim Henson Company, and it’ll be rated PG. I’d like to do a few more ‘tough-guy’ movies, and possibly a sci-fi piece. I want to do a lot of different things.”
Getting films made like the ones that Zahler is interested in making isn’t easy, but when your material is provocative, people take notice. “I’m happy to get my pieces out there, and not to sound dismissive, but I’m seeking self-satisfaction through my art. I have final cut and people who work with me know what to expect. And if audiences and critics want to like my work, that’s great. But I’m certainly not trying to please anyone,” says Zahler. “I’ve been offered studio jobs but I have very little interest in directing something that I didn’t create. Except maybe for a ‘Gremlins’ sequel, that’s something I’d want to do. I might give up final cut for that!”