| A former boxer-turned-drug runner lands in a prison battleground after a deal gets deadly
From the writer-director of Bone Tomahawk comes another relentlessly graphic & brutally violent example of raw craftsmanship that takes ample time to pave the required groundwork, but once all the pieces on the board are set the film takes things up a notch, leaving an endless trail of broken bones behind. The film burns slow at the beginning, allowing Vaughn to develop himself into something more that just a stock character, but as soon as this beast gets rolling, all bets are off and the pace and the violence begins to ramp up before reaching the satisfying conclusion.
Vince Vaughn plays Bradley Thomas in an incredibly physical and demanding performance that he carries with a strong, imposing, yet humanizing demeanor. He is a man who does what he can to survive and provide for his family, even if the circumstances make him reluctant at time, he is a man who does what he does not because he wants to, but because he must. Vaughn fully utilizes the charm and wit he has made a career on to full effect, creating a layered, full-bodied character that is both funny and sullen, stoic, yet vulnerable.
After I realized I had been pleasantly surprised with Zahler’s genuine, dark, left of the dial Western in Bone Tomahawk I decided I would certainly seek this film. The most impressing aspect of the film, with a huge nod to Zahler, is his ability to maintain a particular tone throughout. It is rare for the audience to get to set back and enjoy a genuine, heartfelt, honest, single-minded Midnight Movie anymore. But there are still occasions where the feat pulled off and an entire world of artistic merit buried in full fisted genre emerges.
The beautiful yet simple cinematography and the on point choreography that isn’t either to dirty clean and manages to really immerse the viewer in the fight scenes. To compliment the fight scenes, the editing well establishes the theme of the fights. There is never a time where the cutting feels to quick or is absent, it’s quite on point when delivering the impact of Vaughn’s killing blows or his rather up close and personal wrestles.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a fantastic homage piece on 70’s and 80’s Grindhouse cinema. It pulls no punches when it comes to the violence. The gore is spectacular practical that looks so exaggerated its comedic, in a good way. This film is simple and precise and it knows it too. Zahler manages to grasp the audience’s attention and not let go. He is someone who clearly loves this style and has affection for it outside of a typical fan. He loves the violence, the upwardness of outrageousness but also has a fondness for the characters and personalities that dominate these films.
Overall, the movie is Dante’s Inferno set to the pulpy backdrop of America’s prison system. Cell Block 99 itself serves as the deepest, scariest level of Hell, with Don Johnson (who was great) as Lucifer himself. Zahler does his usual thing — patiently building character around an increasingly insane narrative, using both slow-build and gradual audience investment to deliver some of the most savage, bone-crunching violence 2017 has seen yet. Vince Vaughn gives a downright vengeful performance, lumbering about with a mighty gait, aimed at anyone who has ever doubted his own dramatic capabilities. Brawl is unflinching, explosive, and grindhouse as fuck. Naturally, I fucking loved it.
‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’ gets an 8.7/10
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!
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