BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, the latest film from director S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk), is a slow burn thriller that packs a hefty punch of violence and revenge. The film stars Vince Vaughn (Hacksaw Ridge), in what I consider to be one of his best roles ever, along with Jennifer Carpenter (“Dexter”), Udo Kier (Blade), Marc Blucas (“Underground”) and Don Johnson (“Miami Vice”).
Bradley (Vaughn), a former boxer, loses his job as a car mechanic, while at the same time his marriage beings to unravel. Finding himself at a crossroad, he decides to pick up a job working for an old friend that is a drug courier. Though his new found job provides a much better life for him and his wife, it also proves to be just as dangerous when he finds himself in the middle of a gunfight between police officers and the people he’s supposed to be working with. Now placed in jail, those he once thought were allies have become the enemies, and they require him to commit atrocious acts of violence in order to right the wrongs they feel he has committed. Bradley must do whatever they say or face the ultimate consequences – the loss of his family and his unborn child.
I had mild expectations going into BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99. I had been blown away by Bone Tomahawk but it wasn’t until about ⅔ of the way through when the action really kicked up a notch. Knowing that, I made sure to keep my expectations in check just in case the set up was the same. However, in this case, I was immediately drawn into the film after the first 10 minutes and let me just say, it was one hell of a ride. The film, at its core, is really about a specific incident in Bradley’s life that results in horrible consequences. We aren’t given much in the way of who Bradley was prior to the start of the film, instead it’s more focused on his life in the present with glimpses and indications of the type of person he used to be and how that person is brought back to life in moments of peril. Though the film moves at a much faster pace than Bone Tomahawk, you still need to be patient as Zahler builds the story for the ultimate climatic moment.
In terms of acting, as I mentioned above, this is probably one of my favorite Vince Vaughn films and one that I really feel showcases his range as an actor. When I first saw the trailer for this film I wasn’t convinced that Vaughn could pull it off and boy was I wrong. His character is a simple man, who just wants to provide for his family, but don’t let that fool you because his penchant for violence is terrifying and his presence is more than commanding. It was also great to see Jennifer Carpenter outside of her most well-known role on “Dexter” but I wish she had more screen time as I would have loved to have learned more about her character. As for Don Johnson, who played the Warden of the prison that Bradley is sent to, he was ruthless and vicious. Vaughn is definitely the one that sticks out the most in the film, but overall the performances from everyone were terrific.
I’ve learned that an S. Craig Zahler film isn’t an S. Craig Zahler film unless there is some bloodshed and there most certainly was a lot of that in BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99. Besides the fact that Vaughn’s character used to be a boxer, the violence portrayed by the other inmates is unflinching and raw. As with Bone Tomahawk, the main course is served at the end, when Bradley lets loose all his rage in one of the most impactful endings that I’ve seen in a film all year. It was hard to watch at times, and I found myself forcing my eyes to stay on the screen, but it wasn’t just the violence that got to me, it was also how heartbreaking the final scene was. This was definitely a film I wasn’t expecting to play on my heartstrings and in those final moments I found myself feeling incredibly sad for Bradley and the situation he had gotten himself in.
Overall, I can’t give this film enough praise. It’s brutal, it’s violent, it’s heartbreaking, and it never apologies for what it is. S. Craig Zahler is truly a master at his craft and a writer/director that we should all have on our radar. As 2017 comes to a close I can’t imagine many other films topping this one. If you are a fan of Zahler’s film and don’t mind a slow burn that pays off ten folds in the end, than you will not want to miss BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99.
BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 will be available on DVD, DVD/Blu-ray and Ultra High-Def 4K/Blu-ray Combo Packs on December 26, 2017.
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