Director: S. Craig Zahler.
Starring. Vince Vaughn, Don Johnson, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Udo Kier USA. 2h 12m.
Not being a huge fan of comedy it’s not surprise that I haven’t seen a lot of Vince Vaughn, in fact the only film that comes to mind is the abysmal remake of Psycho (1999) which I sat through wondering a frame for frame remake was needed while nursing my very first tattoo in the back of a dingy Odeon Cinema… I was not impressed.
So when I heard that he has broken character and was starring in a grisly prison action drama from the unstable Bone Tomahawk (2015) director S. Craig Zahler. I knew this was going to be a great film and it didn’t disappoint, much like the horror western Brawl in Cell Block 99 take a while to really get into the swing of things.
Bradley (don’t call him Brad) beings the film being fired from his auto repair job and pretty much from this moment on everything goes wrong for him, on returning home from work he discovers his life long partner Lauren (Carpenter) has been cheating on him, so he dismantles her car with his bare hands, ripping it apart and trashing it. They talk, it’s a raw and frank conversation but they decide to stay together and have a baby, it’s an interesting contrast how he calmly displays so much controlled brute force then sits down so peacefully with bleeding hands, showing up most respect for the woman he loves. But this is Bradleys character, he is a good guy, but there are hints from the conversation that they have both been through rough times, with alcohol and possibly drugs too, both have cleaned up their acts and are trying to go straight, but we know how that works out right.. Carlito Brigante…. So Bradley goes back to his old job of running drugs for an old friend, they move into a luxury home and Lauren is pregnant (the couples rainbow baby). Then he gets a big job, a special request from his old friend, to break in a new group of dealers and to be made a partner. But things go drastically wrong (as predicted by Bradley), the deal goes south, he does the “right” thing and ends up going to jail where he’s forced to keep in check despite the numerous dehumanizing factors.
Vaughn looks mean as hell, but is mostly quite a peaceful man, he doesn’t have a problem with being just another joe, just as much as he has the strength and ability to literally rip a man’s face off. His huge frame shaved head with the large cross tattooed on it, gives an indication of his previous life as a professional fighter, you’d think it would be a warning but everyone seems to like a challenge, and boy can he fight! The choreography of the fights is something to marvel at, it’s not the close up punches, slow-mo action that a lot of popular action films chose to take, the camera pans back and we see full bodies going at it tooth and nail, there’s no CGI blood here and it looks as if we have a rare use of props and the effects are violently dazzling.
After an unusual threat to his unborn baby, Bradley had to use his intelligence and brute force to find and kill a man who resides in Cell block 99, but it means going through some ungodly punishment and dishing out some scary pain and death to get to him. He does everything from race baiting Mexican inmates, breaking the bones of prison guards and enduring a device that replicates the intestinator from Fortress (1992) Our deadly hero soon becomes an executioner and we love him even more.Brawl in Cell Block 99 might just be Vaughn’s finest piece of work to date, it certainly stands out from his back catalogue, and it doesn’t seem to have been the easy route for the director and stuntmen with the awkward shots and hard core approach to the action but it all pays off with some amazing bone crunching (and SCRAPING) commanding fight scenes, gritty drama and a brilliant story that doesn’t feel like the 2 hour epic that it is. After all the rules of right and wrong are broken down, I feel as if Bradley is the ultimate badass anti hero that we all need in times where great courage is needed.
R – Fortress (1992), A Prophet (2009)
L – 22 of my favourite prison films, Gruesome Hollywood, video nasties