Brawl In Cell Block 99 Review

Vince Vaughn Brawl In Cell Block 99
When his pregnant wife is kidnapped, newly incarcerated Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn) is given only one way to save her — kill a target in a maximum-security prison. And the only way to be transferred there? Extreme violence.

by Jonathan Pile |
Published on
Release Date:

20 Oct 2017

Running Time:

132 minutes



Original Title:

Brawl In Cell Block 99

Vince Vaughn comes with baggage. It’s unavoidable — that’s what a decade and more of increasingly disappointing comedies will do to a career. But, in his own version of the McConaissance, he’s attempting to change his image — in True Detective, Hacksaw Ridge, and now with Brawl In Cell Block 99.

Vince Vaughn is suddenly an actor to watch.

Vaughn is Bradley (not Brad — as he continually corrects people), a recovering alcoholic who, in the same morning, is laid off from his job and discovers his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter) has been cheating on him. His reaction is to punch a car window until it smashes, then resolve to fix both his marriage and his employment situation. Cut to 18 months later: Lauren is pregnant, and he’s working (very successfully) as a drug runner. Life is good, until a joint job with some Mexican dealers goes wrong and Bradley is caught and sent down for seven years.

Given the promise of the title, it’s surprising how long it takes to get to this point — it’s over an hour before we see a prison and even then, it’s not yet Block 99. But now we’re inside, the film starts to mutate from the gritty drama of its first hour, to a balls-out, grindhouse-inspired thrill-ride, where arms can be snapped in two and Don Johnson is a sadistic prison warden.

On Bradley’s second day inside, a member of the Mexican cartel pays him a visit to issue an ultimatum: they’ve kidnapped his wife, he needs to get himself transferred to a maximum-security prison to kill one of its inmates. If he refuses, they have an abortionist on stand-by. Cue the brawling.

Vaughn is undeniably effective here. The script is witty and darkly comedic, which he’s well-suited to, but, at 6’ 5”, with a cue-ball shaved head and a prominent scalp tattoo, he’s also an impressive physical presence. He has to be — director S. Craig Zahler (whose debut was gory Western Bone Tomahawk) doesn’t employ any fast cuts in the fight scenes, instead happy to place his camera and let his actors get on with it. And get on with it they do, Bradley picking fights with everyone he can to get him closer to his target. These fights are notable for two reasons — their simplicity and their violence. The small moments that seemed out of place early on (such as Bradley’s unlikely ability to punch through a car window) suddenly make sense in this new context. And Zahler continually finds new ways to shock, from the sight of a snapped bone jutting through

skin to the horrifying results of a face being ground into the floor.

It’s hardly the Oscar-chasing direction McConaughey chose for his career rethink, but it’s certainly more fun. He may be 47, but Vince Vaughn is suddenly an actor to watch.

Brawl In Cell Block 99 takes its time with its set-up, but that only makes the action that follows all the more effective. And Vaughn as an action hero works surprisingly well.
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