FOR an actor told more than once that he would never work again, Mel Gibson has come back more often than a Scotch egg a year past its sell by date. Any director hiring him knows he comes with controversy in tow, and so it proves in this crime drama from S Craig Zahler. If ever a film wanted to so obviously poke liberals in the eye it is this one. Question is, do you want to rise to the bait?

Gibson plays Brett Ridgeman, a cop who is a year off 60 but still the same rank he was when he was the age of his partner Tony (Vince Vaughn). As his boss (Don Johnson) tells him, he is too old to be still pounding the concrete. According to Ridgeman, the reason for his lack of advancement is that he does not do politics. He’s old school, with a string of disciplinary judgments against him to prove it.

His most recent mistake is being caught on a phone camera roughing up a Latino suspect. Suspended from duty and brooding on his lot, Ridgeman wants money fast. Also looking for big pay days are a gang of armed robbers and just out of jail Henry (Toby Kittles), who takes a job driving for the gang.

Desperate, greedy, weak and violent men all set for a clash, and Zahler (Bone Tomahawk) duly delivers in fine style. But he takes his time –159 minutes – and his dish of revenge and robbery comes with a lot of unappetising trimmings. From the incident that leads to Ridgeman being suspended to the way the gang corrects the grammar of their African-American drivers, racism often rears its ugly head. Using a fictional tale to accurately reflect the toxic state of race relations in some parts of America, or a cheap bid to provoke?

As its 18 certificate suggests, Dragged Across Concrete is no tiptoe through the tulips. If it can just about argue a case for using racism on the grounds of verite there is no such excuse when it comes to its the treatment of women, who are either victims in need of protection (if they are lucky), or there to be abused and humiliated. Some of the scenes are sickeningly nasty, starting with the two detectives questioning a woman standing shivering in her underwear and progressing to far more sinister scenes.

But wait, Zahler has a clever-clever excuse: as well as being done in the style of a Seventies exploitation picture, his film displays the same blunt sensitivities as a way of ramming home the point that we may think we live in the oh so civilised Noughties, but not much has changed, and if anything things are becoming worse.

It’s an argument, one supposes, but it is prosecuted so revoltingly, and in such a have rancid cake and eat it way, that by the end of the three hours this viewer was the one feeling exploited.