Directed by S. Craig Zahler. Starring Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles and Michael Jai White. Thriller, USA, 159 minutes, cert 18.

In cinemas 19th April 2019 from Studiocanal.


Early on in S. Craig Zahler’s epically long crime opus, there is a scene where a perpetually pissed off and tired looking Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) sits across from his boss, Chief Lt. Calvert (Don Johnson). Ridgeman still works the streets while Calvert has managed to secure himself a plush wide-open office. Quietly chastising both Ridgeman and his partner Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) after a heavy-handed and racially charged arrest, the Chief laments the state of affairs, acknowledging a framed newspaper front page from the 90s praising both Ridgeman and Lurasetti as heroic, up and coming cops.  A nod from Zahler to Gibson's glory days when he was the golden boy of cinema.


Ridgeman, finds himself facing a lengthy suspension without pay he decides to take matters into his own hands by roping Lusaretti, into basically heisting a heist. Meanwhile, on the other end, there is recently released convict Henry Johns, played by Tory Kittles, who has his own designs on ripping off the vicious robbers


Much has been made of the film's politics, proclaiming it as a Make America Great Again propaganda piece. Gibson’s off screen behaviour may have set off alarm bells, particularly with the prospect of his portrayal of a politically incorrect law officer, but these criticisms come across as ill-founded. Zahler’s interest in flawed characters is a vein that has run through his films and novels. And while these flawed characters often carry his stories he does not celebrate or glorify their views or actions.


Kittles may be familiar to readers from the first season of True Detective, and the underrated Colony has been ignored in much of the film's coverage. His character is the noblest, a criminal born of a society and system who has to break the rules to survive, while Ridgeman is a bitter and twisted product of his own prejudices, refusing to change or adapt to the changes in society.


Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the film is its length. What could have been slam-bang B-movie fare done in half the time taken here is stretched out. Zahler is all about the slow burn. His approach taking in the characters home lives, as well as other seemingly unimportant players, pays off spectacularly, resulting in a final hour that is filled with dread, tension and carnage. The violence here is spare, but when it arrives, it is shocking, brutal and in a couple of cases sickening. Even death offers no reprieve; one corpse suffers a gross spectacle that comes close to the spectacular evisceration witnessed in Zahler’s debut Bone Tomahawk.


By pairing himself with Zahler, a writer and director who thrives on smuggling horror tropes into the western and crime genres, Gibson has delivered his most interesting, exciting and challenging film in years. A cops and robbers tale that seems as interested in provoking the viewers' political sensibilities as well as their propensity for on screen violence. The film could benefit from some trimming and when it comes to direction Zahler’s style is quite flat and plain. Patient viewers will be rewarded though with a piece of outlaw cinema that hearkens back to the glory days of Don Siegel and Robert Aldrich’s anti heroes.


Iain MacLeod


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