Here are the somewhat quick movie reviews for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and Dragged Across Concrete.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
“And now, after 25 years of making and unmaking, a film by Terry Gilliam.” So reads the opening title card of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, showing that even at this point, the very existence of this film is a triumph. As for those who don’t know, Gilliam initially attempted making this film back in 2000, but after one of its leads injured himself and dropped out, then soon after budgetary issues came about, rapidly transforming this project into a catastrophe of mythic proportions. All of which are chronicled in the fantastic 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha. Yet still a thoroughly middle-of-the-road effort, this film may have been inevitable that actually watching director Terry Gilliam’s cinematic white whale would be a bit of a letdown after thirty years of myth-making.
Adam Driver & Jonathan Pryce in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
The film stars a great Adam Driver as Toby, an arrogant film director who sets on a Quixote-esque and possibly time-traveling adventure across Spain after buying a bootleg copy of his student film, a low-budget adaptation of Don Quixote, from a street vendor. And it turns out that his long-ago project had some devastating, long-lasting effects on the village where it was shot: The film’s lead (Jonathan Pryce) now fully believes that he is Don Quixote, and its Dulcinea, a local teenager named Angelica (Joana Ribeiro), set out for Madrid in search of becoming a star after Toby left town, and found nothing but distress and abuse. And this may all sound like the setup to deconstruct the concept of the untouchable macho genius, but unfortunately, Gilliam doesn’t seem to have that level of self-awareness. Instead, Toby’s problems come mostly from all the beautiful women throwing themselves at him, and rich men who want to kill him because their women want him so bad. It as well helps no one that the female characters in this film are hardly characters at all. So while there are a couple of decently long sequences that provide some flashes of that old Gilliam magic, most of this film seems to be just a warmed-over Fellini rehash. Instead of leading itself to a premise that had the potential to talk about the ethics of creativity. Consistently throughout The Man Who Killed Don Quixote you see a glimpse of the gem hiding in the rough. Though it’s as you find yourself in the film’s climax shaking your head a bit, wondering, “wait, what were we talking about again?”
Dragged Across Concrete
In more ways than one, and true to its title, Dragged Across Concrete is abrasive. It comes from the mind of novelist turned filmmaker S. Craig Zahler, whose last grisly, leisurely, and evocatively named genre experiment, Brawl In Cell Block 99, climaxed with some literal abrasion. This time around, it’s not just the violence that’s wince-worthy. Zahler has written and directed a throwback police potboiler about a couple of racist loose-cannon cops (Mel Gibson & Vince Vaughn), and he’s come dangerously close to sympathizing with there predicament and their toxic mindset. Plenty will be repulsed, and not unreasonably: This is an ugly, borderline vile piece of work. Thing is, it’s also been made with craft, wit, and a frankly thrilling disregard for how films like this are supposed to operate, how they usually sound and move.
Zahler has clearly given a lot of thought to this strain of detective-gangster fiction, to its cruelty, pessimism and flashes of nihilism. His detectives, Brett (Gibson) and Anthony (Vaughn), fit their types to a T, entering the story with ready guns and well-honed cynicism. Before long, Brett is pressing his boot down on the neck of a handcuffed Latino suspect, they’re both caught on video and put on six-week suspension and the film’s journey begins. But the big question is, does Zahler identify with these human battering rams, with their complaints about a world where “political correctness” runs amok, where men act too much like women, where being labeled a racist can ruin your career? He doesn’t condemn them, exactly. They’re flawed but uncomfortably “likable” antiheroes in some ways, but not outright villains — in part because Gibson and Vaughn lend their characters a bruised humanity beneath the loathsome shit-talking. The hook of Dragged Across Concrete, seemingly designed to offend, is that Zahler has inserted a couple of models of ’70s macho cool into a world that now recoils them.
Vince Vaughn & Mel Gibson in Dragged Across Concrete
With a whopping two hour thirty-eight minute runtime, this film is generally watchable, even at its slowest and ugliest, simply because the actors are solid even when their characters are repellent. Gibson delivers a tamped-down performance, going for impassive, while Vaughn runs his mouth and enjoys his flashy bits. The unintuitive charm of Zahler’s work, which always take the roundabout path, favoring prelude and delay gratification. Here, the filmmaker makes a whole meal out of the “boring stuff” most thrillers dispense with on the way to the “good stuff” — ingeniously extending the standard “Are you in or out?” conversation that precedes a big job and devoting a few spare minutes to the home life of a side character (Jennifer Carpenter) about to be violently thrust into the middle of the story.
But it’s the characters that strike arguably the most in this film. Though they live in homes that are so impersonal they seem to be decorated by the same depressed interior designer, the characters in Dragged Across Concrete are less blank largely because of Zahler’s writing, his eccentric metaphors and monologues in all. His most sympathetic character, Henry (Tory Kittles), occupies another story line one that soon crosses Brett and Anthony’s. A newly released ex-con, Henry has a brother who uses a wheelchair and a mother who’s been turning tricks while he’s been in the pen. Brett has a daughter and a wife who has multiple sclerosis and uses a cane. Zahler seems to want to make Henry a counterweight to the detectives (Brett specifically) as if to suggest that they’re alike, though their worlds and power couldn’t be more different. It’s this contrived parallelism, though, does suit the movie’s dog-eat-dog worldview or its baiting representation of the white characters’ racism. Some of which openly voice their bigotry, which might have been a bold choice if Zahler had interrogated it rather than given himself convenient outs. Anthony makes a joke about Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He also has a black girlfriend, which is presumably meant to complicate his character but instead feels like a directorial hedge. When Brett’s wife says that she wasn’t a racist until she moved into their crummy neighborhood, her rueful delivery suggests that she was regrettably forced into prejudice. Zahler though just lets her racism sit in the open, just hanging in the air unanswered, which ultimately says plenty.