Upsetting Day: That Bank Teller From Dragged Across Concrete 🌭

In 2018, writer/director S. Craig Zahler released a movie called Dragged Across Concrete. You might know him as the guy who made Bone Tomahawk which you might know as the movie where savage natives hack a naked man in half in front of Kurt Russell. He also wrote a movie about nazi puppets. The point is, he’s a man of subtle, artful presentation and he, probably by accident, filmed the darkest comedy scene that will ever be. Let’s talk about the bank teller who gets executed in Dragged Across Concrete.

When I describe Dragged Across Concrete, it’s going to sound like I’m a film genius inventing the least likable movie. The two heroes are cops in trouble for racially motivated police brutality, which isn’t a misunderstanding. We see them do it. They stand on a suspect’s neck and then rough up his girlfriend. She’s deaf, nude, and Mexican, and they take deliberate care to mock all three of those things. They’re played by Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, who for different reasons, are each perfect answers to the question, “Who is the worst person in the world’s favorite movie star?”

The stakes of the film are that each of these cops want more money. Mel Gibson wants it because his daughter keeps getting white hate-crimed in their black neighborhood, which again, is not a misunderstanding. Someone wrote that and filmed it. Vince Vaughn wants more money because it would be nice for him and his girlfriend. So our heroes are bad, racist cops trying to steal money. Most of it takes place in Mel Gibson’s car, and it’s almost three hours long.

But it’s pretty good! Anyway, the part I want to talk about starts an hour and twenty minutes in. We leave our main characters to meet a woman trying to get on a bus. It’s Jennifer Carpenter who was paid to act anguished and was having a closing sale. If you tell Jennifer Carpenter to pretend to be in pain, she will lay an egg on an electric chair and say, “Something like that?”

She is being emotionally tortured by the bus, and we don’t know why yet.

The battle continues. Whether you’re Team Bus or Team Lady, the film stays with this conflict long enough the viewer is forced to take a side.

Which side are you on, reader?

Woman or machine! Who will claim victory in this battle of wills?!

Bus wins! Bus wins! But we still don’t know why they were fighting. If you had to guess based on the politics of the rest of the film, she probably got kicked off one for some unwritten rule about screaming racial slurs. “I learned that the hard way; the global elites, and you know who I mean, use city buses to traffic children to gender-affirming surgery,” her co-star Mel Gibson definitely told her when they met. I guess what I’m saying is when the movie Dragged Across Concrete shows you a person and nothing else, you are going to assume they are terrible in complicated ways. But you’re wrong! She’s wonderful, and cartoonishly so!

Defeated by bus, the mystery woman stabs at the elevator buttons to flee to her apartment, maybe.

Some guy asks her to hold the elevator, but she does the opposite. She tries to help the doors close like a tiny child might understand elevator doors. It’s visual language for, “I am desperate, not capable. I have one purpose, and it is not elevator door science.”

She gets to her apartment (maybe) and struggles with the lock. Jennifer Carpenter is in sheer panic, as if the guy she didn’t hold the elevator for is coming up the stairs with a knife. Which, again, is the tone of this movie. If she was stabbed to death right here, her name in the credits would be “Murdered Bystander #11.”

Like the filmmaker, I’m making a deliberate choice here– the same one we saw at the bus. I’m taking so long building to something you have to take a side: this is either very important, or very silly.

You’re right, I’ll get to it. The fastest way to say it is this: Jennifer Carpenter has been locked out of her apartment by her husband because she loves her baby too much. There is very literally nothing more to this character than that. Her baby is in there, she loves it, and leaving it causes her pain. She’s a baby junkie, and it’s no secret. The husband put the chain up because he knew she’d come right back up the elevator and pull this shit.

She starts pleading, threatening, bargaining to be let in.

I can’t stress enough how much time we spend doing this.

It is fucking sloppy and insane. She tries everything to get to that baby. It’s not just too much, it’s outrageously too much. It raises the question: is this a powerful dramatic moment or did a prankster give Jennifer Carpenter money in exchange for snot?

This is a filmmaker trying to communicate “she is a loving mother” with absolutely no restraint. It’s how an unlicensed monkey scientist would do it. I’m not saying it’s artless, I’m saying it is every artistic weapon pointed in the same direction and we are watching them blast a hole in a smoking crater that was once an idea.

At these dramatic heights, you’re one wrong step from falling into comedy. This is the first time I’ve seen a hysterical new mother beg her husband to let her skip work to play with her baby, and it’s already a parody of the genre.

So the husband won’t let her in, and he knows all her tricks.

They argue for a long time, and we learn nothing more. She wants to be with her baby like it’s a disease, and the people in her life are very patient and accommodating. You don’t need to hear all the details; I’ll skip ahead t–

I’ll skip ahead to the end of their argument where she negotiates for kissing the baby’s foot through the crack in the door and stealing one of its socks.

She gets back on the bus where we see her wallow in childless misery. The writer of Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich thought, “I must show the audience this mother loves her baby,” and nailed it. Maybe even overdid it. We continue to watch that auteur bring his vision to life.

She was on maternity leave for two months, and then skipped work for another four weeks to stay home with her baby. And now, here she is: 90 minutes and one month late for work and she gets paralyzed by another door. For the fifth time, we watch this character emotionally struggle to change locations.

She finally manages to go inside, and if you thought they were done establishing the importance of her love for her child, that’s cute.

Her boss knows her whole deal, and he’s more than okay with it. He greets her at the door with magical prophecies about her boy’s potential. He believes in the boy. The bank believes in the boy. He says to her, “Your absence was a weight upon us. Your return is a divine blessing.” There’s really nothing like it. The director of Dragged Across Concrete is warping the rules of his entire universe to demand we know how much this supporting character loves her baby. For an entire month the employees of this bank have been waiting for this clinically insane mother to return while maintaining fresh flowers and balloons in a shrine to her newborn son.

We met this character ten minutes ago, and since then the entire gritty crime drama has been about her overclocked maternal instincts. That’s not an exaggeration. We’ve been learning and re-learning about her single personality trait for a quarter of an episode of The A-Team. If you were watching that instead, Mr. T would already be building his third battle truck. Artistically, I can’t put this into perspective any harder than that.

“A small token. A miniscule manifestation of our affection,” her boss calls the baby shrine. This is not how people talk. This is not how anything wo– hold on, what was going on in the main movie we left so long ago?

Oh, right. Crime!

The bank is being robbed by three casual murderers whose personalities are silent, silent, and racist. Through a recorded message, they ask if anyone is in the back of the bank. The tape says, “If you are mistaken, your testicles will be removed with this,” which is the cue for one of the robbers to hold up an ordinary knife. It’s adorable, like a big part of the heist planning went into choreographing this little play.

Sorry, Jennifer Carpenter, I got distracted by characters with a second detail. I’m worried this robbery isn’t going to go well for you, and a lot of time and effort has gone into making me feel that worry.

We are on an emotional train being driven by someone who had to look up love on Wikipedia. The tension is so far beyond parody that even the biggest sap is asking their TV, “Wouldn’t it be funny if after all this they shot her?”

While she’s handcuffing the other employees, one of them signals to his computer. He’s started an email to the police telling them they’re being robbed and wants her to hit send. The two of them wordlessly argue about whether or not the police will make the situation better, and you’ll never believe which side the white lady is on!

Jennifer Carpenter is a great actress. With what only looks like five lifetimes of agony, her face can form any shape, so she has no trouble silently communicating, “Aiiieee, no, I’m not going to sacrifice my baby’s mother, my precious baby’s mother, no no no.” But you don’t get ahead in banking by listening to women. He goes for that enter key.

She tries to shove him away from the computer with the same technique she used to speed up the elevator doors…

… and the robbers are already shooting. They’re watching the same thing we are and nobody can miss Jennifer Carpenter’s facial expressions. There are passing jets who can see she doesn’t want this guy to hit send so she can get home to her baby.

When we cut back, the new mother we’ve now spent a lifetime with is standing carefully still with mannequin arms.

They shoot her hand off. Which reminds me of a dele–

Sorry, there’s a d–

Okay, in 1997, the DVD release of Austin Powers included a d–

There was a deleted scene in the first Austin Powers where Austin Powers runs over a henchman with a steamroller and it cuts away to his loving family. They talk about missing him… how he’s become like a father to his stepson. It’s sort of a basic gag about how it’s ridiculous to imagine all the nameless victims in movies as actual people with full lives. And 26 years ago, the producers of Austin fucking Powers knew it was a hack joke they should cut. Yet this movie, with two monstrous ham hands, was doing the same bit in 2018 with full sincerity. And it wasn’t done.

She hits the floor and goes digging for the sock she stole from her baby. Not to treasure him one last time before her life drains from the spurting stumps, though. It’s sadder than that, or at least more pathetic than that.

With almost one total finger, she holds up the sock and politely asks, “Will you make sure my baby gets this? His name is Jackson.” I was already suspicious that S. Craig Zhaler learned how to write characters from Skyrim NPCs, and as if to prove it, this one gives a quest to the first maniac stranger she sees.

We’ve been building to this moment for a truly deranged amount of time. Across five locations, a filmmaker has put the full force of a $15 million budget into making us feel for this character. And never has anyone’s artistic motivations been so naked. This is how a wild horse would try to get an audience worried that Female Bank Employee is about to die.

Obviously, obviously, she barely finishes her sentence.

Her entire head explodes with the timing of a cannibal finishing a knock knock joke. It’s horrific, but way too absurd to be serious. This is like someone collected the DNA of historical murderers to create a vaudevillian comedian. This character existed only to die and an unmoderated madman said, “What if that was sad? For instance, what if she has a kid? No no, I mean like this lady really fucking has a kid. Quadruple what you’re picturing, at least. Medical science has no name for how much she has a kid. I’ve got it: picture a very long, premise-heavy Saturday Night Live sketch, only it has a button. That is the emotional impact we’re going for. I want this extra’s death to be so extravagant she gets featured on the Blu-ray menu.”

After stalling out the film and having no effect on the plot, we never see her again. Bank Teller is most of a torso squirting from three holes and memorializing a lack of creative discipline far from the main characters’ concerns. She was a joke pitch made by a serial killer who snuck into a brainstorming meeting and she stood next to the director at red carpet events!

Years ago I read an interview with Alan Spencer who was inspired by the stilted, phony toughness of Dirty Harry. He couldn’t understand how anyone could take it seriously, and he made a parody called Sledge Hammer!. It was an amazing show that ended with the main character trying to disarm a nuclear bomb and destroying a city. I bring it up because while misfiring drama is funny to some people, a lot of people interfaced with this art as it was (maybe?) intended– as, wow, feeling the super serious effects of death. When you elevate a situation so far beyond normal, it can become a Rorschach test, but this is like baking fifty cakes that say “INVEST EMOTIONALLY IN SAD MOM” and slowly hitting you in the face with each one. If you didn’t see the punchline coming after all that setup, you’re a dog left in front of the TV. I have no idea how to end this article, no wait:

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6 replies on “Upsetting Day: That Bank Teller From Dragged Across Concrete 🌭”

I think just the part of the movie about her took place in her head in the milliseconds between the gunshot and her head exploding. She had the idle thought of wanting kids one day and this thought became the whole world in that instant simply because of proximity.

Also, this guy made his opinion of women and their role vis-a-vis babies by the end of Bone Tomahawk. Fuck did I like The Proposition more.

this is how David Cage aspires to write. not ham-handedly, but wielding an entire pig on each fist, trying to beat the player to death with EEEmoootion

If you love ham-fisted melodrama and brutal Robocop-Inspired mom deaths then 2018 was definitely your movie year.

So I looked at the Wikipedia article about this movie. It turns out that Armond White (the critic who hits himself in the face with a shovel before every writing review because concussions really show the academy what he thinks of them) called this one of the top 20 movies of all its entire decade, along with such winners as Batman v. Superman, Man of Steel, Adventures of Tintin, and the Dwayne Johnson-Mark Wahlberg bodybuilding action comedy Pain & Gain.

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