Director – S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk)
Starring – Vince Vaughn (True Detective, Anchorman), Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter, Quarantine), Don Johnson (Django Unchained, Machete)
Release Date – 2017
Rating – 4/5
Sometime last year I was sent the western horror flick Bone Tomahawkfrom director S. Craig Zahler. The film was a hit among horror fans for its unique story and amazing cast. I was skeptical at first about checking it out but eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I tossed it in. I was very surprised by the film and it quickly became one of my favorites for the year.
A few weeks back I received news that Zahler has returned to behind the camera with a new effort starring Vince Vaughn. This excited me and confused me. Typically, I’m not a fan of Vaughns but Zahler is an amazing filmmaker so I couldn’t wait to see where this one was going. Lucky for me I was able to get a review copy of Brawl in Cell Block 99.
**Spoiler Alert**The film follows Bradley Thomas (Vaughn) who is forced to run drugs for a friend after he loses his job. He moves out of the suburbs and into a nice home after he has done several drops for his friend Gil and eventually becomes his right hand man. Bradley’s wife is expecting and he is able to work out a deal to have three months off when the baby is born if he takes two goons from their new contact on his next drop. The drop turns sour and the goons get into a gun fight with the police resulting in Bradley’s arrest. He is sent to prison for 7 years and after his first day he is sent word that the new contact Gil has had kidnapped his wife and will kill her if he doesn’t kill one of their men in prison. Bradley is sent in motion to kick ass until he is sent to cell block 99 in a maximum security prison. Fight after fight he makes his way there only to learn it was a set up and his only option is to once again use his fists to save his unborn child.**Spoiler Alert**
I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this one and I was not prepared for how violent the film was. The film hit hard and never let up.
The acting in this one is so so. I’ve never been a fan of Vaughn and even in this film its hard for me to see him actually acting. In almost every movie I’ve seen him in he acts like your uncle who has never been married and likes rubbing his success in your family’s face. In Brawl he does limit his dialogue but when he does talk he just doesn’t feel committed to his role. The same can be said about the fight choreography. When Vaughn is hurting someone I can’t help but get excited by the brutality and effects but the hand exchange is sloppy making for an awkward watch at times.
I was not sold on Jennifer Carpenter either. She has no conviction in her role and just spits dialogue out like she’s getting paid by the word. The only cast member the brought their “A” game was Don Johnson who absolutely killed it. He never lets me down and I would love to see him take on more roles like this.
The story for this one is fantastic. It does get slow at times but the pacing of the film does not render it. In fact, those slow scenes have just as much story being told as the more fast paced ones. The film is very story driven and it has a great story to tell.
Finally, this is one bloody crime drama. The fighting scenes may be awkward but they are very rewarding. The kills and gags we do get are fantastic with amazing practical effects. It may not be that gory but there is plenty of carnage for the most depraved horror hound. Overall, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a phenomenal film. The acting is questionable but the story is one for the exploitation lover. I cannot recommend this one enough. Check it out.