Film Review – Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Title – Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Director – S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk)

Cast – Vince Vaughan, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Udo Kier, Marc Blucas, Fred Melamed

Plot – Psychically imposing and God fearing drug runner Bradley Thomas (Vaughan) finds himself in prison and fighting for his wife’s life after a drug-run goes wrong and Bradley ends up in debt to a Mexican drug cartel.

“I’m not going to tell you anything you want to hear”

Review by Eddie on 2/02/2018

It may have brawl in its title, but for those heading into S. Craig Zahler’s follow up to his well-received (if little seen) western/horror Bone Tomahawk for a bout of full-tilt carnage from start to finish will be left disappointed by Zahler’s slowly paced crime drama that sees Vince Vaughan well and truly shed his everyman comedy persona once and for all.

Just like Bone Tomahawk, that preferred to take things slow on its way to an incredibly brutal and often shocking final section, Brawl in Cell Block 99 moves slowly and methodically as Vaughan’s big-bodied god-fearing Bradley Thomas finds himself going down a spiralling rabbit hole as his life steadily moves away from him as his caught by police for a drug-run gone bad and then tasked with an agonising decision in prison to go rouge and kill a target to save his wife Lauren and her unborn child.

For the films first hour or so the most that happens is Bradley (don’t call him Brad) going ham on a car out the front of his house then getting caught in a gunfight, Zahler setting up the hard to read Bradley and the world he lives in but not doing it in any form of a rush but while you may be finding the going steady to snail-paced once Bradley finds himself on the move to high security prison, things take a turn for the head-stompingly depraved as Bradley showcases his full physical prowess on a range of unsuspecting victim’s.

It’s not often in today’s numb world that you would call a movie’s violence offensive and hard to take but Zahler’s ability to conjure up some incredibly unhinged beatdowns and deaths makes Brawl a film that will lure viewers into a lull then shock them back to life with an intense, uncompromising and wince-inducing finale that will make you look at Vaughan in a completely different light.

Quite possibly sick of his comedic roles, Vaughan has over recent year’s tried his hand in roles and production’s you normally wouldn’t associate him with. The misunderstood and unfairly derided True Detective season 2 on HBO and film’s like Hacksaw Ridge and Term Life all showcased an actor looking to push himself but Brawl really is his career changer.

Not often showing a skerrick of emotion, other than a bout of violent outbursts or sadness at drug addicts that bring back painful memories, Bradley is a stoic and unmovable creation, a man whose task at hand will be meet no matter the costs or consequences.

With a shaved head, a prominent head tattoo and a towering psychical prowess, Vaughan cuts an imposing figure as Bradley and his incarnation will likely be one of the actors most memorable and well-regarded turns, even if the film he is in isn’t a film likely to be remembered in years to come.

Final say –

Not for the faint of heart, Brawl takes too long to get places but once it does get a move on this is a film that you won’t be able to turn away from. Elevated by Vaughan’s against type turn and Zahler’s ability to go to the next level of movie carnage, Brawl in Cell Block 99 tells a rather generic story in a slowly paced and untypical fashion.

3 car hoods out of 5

14 responses to “Film Review – Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

  1. I actually liked the slow parts. The characters and dialogue seemed fine to me, plus it doesn’t follow the cliche of endless spiral towards damnation the way you would think for the opening 10 minutes. Normally, the cheating wife trope would be another excuse for the protagonist to get more angry and move further down the dark path, but in this case he manages to turn things around for a while. Granted, it led to him turning to drug transportation, but the film points out the hypocrisy of the harshness of punishment for that sort of crime, to point out that the world is as imperfect as our protagonist, both with pros and cons.

    • I normally like a slow paced movie where need be but I found some of the pacing here off and some of the scenes and situations really drawn out. I know a few people that lost interest after the first hour or so and I can’t really blame them.
      E

  2. I love a good slow burn and this film was insane once it got going. The sound guy does some great things once the blood flows. If anything disturbed me, it was that “doctor” that actually was upset that he couldn’t perform that special operation….the sigh of disappointment he let out in the car.

  3. Pingback: Film Review – Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017) — Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys) – TARRED + FEATHERED·

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