I heard a few whispers of a dramatic role by Vince Vaughn that may well be the performance of his career to date. I also heard rumblings of a new film by the director of Bone Tomohawk (S. Craig Zahler) which was that horror/ Western with a super graphic death scene everyone was talking about not too long ago. That movie also had more than just gore as it was well cast, and told a captivating story in an interesting way.
I had no idea that these two things were related. Then I started seeing the reviews for Brawl in Cell Block 99hit the web, and I was like “Wait a minute…”.
Here’s the IMDB synopsis for Brawl in Cell Block 99
A former boxer-turned-drug runner lands in a prison battleground after a deal gets deadly.
So, as can be expected from a movie from S. Craig Zahler, like Bone Tomahawk, this film is pretty brutal as well, with moments of intense violence. The violence is a lot different though, with most of it happening during fight scenes as opposed to straight-up torture (although there’s some of that too).
But the cool thing about this film is that it is way more than torture porn, which is something Zahler has managed to do with his films through good storytelling and character development.
With a 2h 12 minute run time, there is a ton of story and character development for our protagonist, Bradley (Vince Vaughn) up front. We get a sense of his background, his moral compass, and what he’s physically capable of.
The trailer (see below) also gives us some sense of this without spoiling the film, so give it a watch if you like (one of the better crafted trailers in the last few years).
For some, the extensive character development at the start may feel like quite the slow burn; but I felt like all of it payed off in the end. The film does ramp up significantly in the 3rd act, and doesn’t necessarily go where you’d expect, which is quite refreshing.
Vince Vaughn is a big guy, and although he’s most well known for his comedic work, he’s proves (yet again) that he’s capable of portraying dramatic characters really well. On top of this, Zahler does a great job of capitalising on his size and physicality for the role, with well structured, brutal brawl scenes.
Zahler never seems afraid to show wide, sweeping shots of the fights, which go on for some time, highlighting his confidence in grounding the action he directs in reality. You feel like a guy as big as Vaughn (whose character we know was a boxer back in his day) can actually pull off most of what he’s doing; and Zahler shows you that he can. It’s glorious to watch.
In terms of the gore, all I can say is that if you’re turned off by that kind of thing, this is probably not the movie for you. This film is very straightforward and very contained, with a minimal cast, even though it takes place in a prison (which you’d think would be full of swarming bodies).
A few down sides include a lack of agency for Jennifer Carpenter’s character Lauren, wife of Bradley (Vaughn). I just wanted to see a bit more from her. The other issue I have with Zahler’s works is that he has this very nationalist vibe going. His bad guys are always this “other”, and his protagonist is always the all-American hero. It’s a bit of a 70’s – 80’s trope, but then again maybe he just digs that era, if you look at his practical use of effects and adoration for gore porn.
Overall, a solid performance by Vaughn, a great story, and something really enjoyable for anyone who digs 70’s Grindhouse and practical effects.
You can watch the trailer for Brawl in Cell Block 99 below:
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