Brawl In Cell Block 99 Review

Brawl In Cell Block 99

I’ve always seen Vince Vaughan as a bit of a comedic gentle giant, wisecracking and lumbering his way inoffensively through various fratpack movies.

I therefore struggled to see him in serious roles such as Frank Semyon in Season 2 of True Detective, seeing him instead as more suited to loudmouth goofball parts.

Vaughan’s latest film, Brawl in Cell Block 99 finally inverts his nice guy image with unabashed success.

Written and directed by S Craig Zahler, this film tells the story of Bradley Thomas (Vaughan), an ordinary man who finds himself pushed over the edge by circumstances.

On the same day that Bradley is let go from his job, he discovers that his wife is having an affair. Things have been tough for them since she miscarried and both have struggled to stay on the wagon.

But for Bradley, this is the last straw.

Frustrated with everything, he proposes they start over and decides to get a delivery job with his cousin Gil (Marc Blucas), a local drug dealer.

Cut to eighteen months later: Bradley’s wife Lauren (Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter) is pregnant and he is clearly making more money, as evidenced by their fancy new abode.

Gil sees Bradley as his number one guy, and one day selects him to oversee a drugs pick-up on behalf of him and his associate, Mr Eleazar.

Bradley has reservations about Eleazar’s men, who are to accompany him on the errand, but is compelled into doing the job by Gil.

Unsurprisingly, things do not go to plan and Bradley finds himself facing seven years in the slammer. He keeps his mouth shut, accepts the sentence and sets about serving his time in a prison nicknamed The Fridge.

One day, Bradley is visited by a nameless character played by Udo Kier.

And when Udo Kier visits you in prison, you know it’s not good news.

Suffice to say, things spiral crazywards from here, and Bradley proves himself capable of doing anything he can to preserve everything he’s got.

Fans of Zahler’s previous work, Bone Tomahawk, were doubtlessly prepared for the level of onscreen violence which ensued.

I on the other hand had not seen Bone Tomahawk; I had only seen the trailer for this film, and misinterpreted it as some sort of deep, American History X-type drama.

The trailer is dominated by a scene where Bradley single-handedly destroys a car with his bare hands, with a stars-and-stripes flag visible in the background. Surely this movie is some sort of dark analogy for the American dream, I thought.

I thought wrong.

Instead, what you get is more akin to From Dusk Till Dawn, in that it is two b-movies crudely, jarringly and joyfully fused together.

The writing and pacing of the first hour is a little slow to begin with, but when you realise that it is all a build-up for an explosively violent second half, you feel more than rewarded.

Vaughan lives up to the hype, and you will probably never see him in quite the same light again, and Zahler continues to cement his reputation as an accomplished filmmaker.

If you are attuned to Zahler’s level of meditative drama laced with bonecrunching, Tarantino-levels of violence, this will tick all the boxes. And even if you’re new to Zahler, like myself, you mightn’t be too disappointed either.

Conor Brennan

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