Some of you will know S. Craig Zahler from his stand-out debut, Bone Tomahawk, which he wrote and directed. Two years later, he returns for his second written and directed by feature.
Brawl In Cell Block 99 stars Vince Vaughn (Delivery Man, Anchorman) like you’ve never seen him before. Though, given he’s in Zahler’s next film, Dragged Across The Concrete with Mel Gibson, you will no doubt see him like this again.
Vaughn is a down on his luck man, taking the wrong turn at every pass. From the get-go we see him simultaneously lose his job and find out his wife, Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter (TV), Limitless (TV)), has been cheating on him.
He takes out his anger by kicking the crap out of her car. Then heads inside and says he wants to try for another baby, their relationship apparently going south after a miscarriage first time round.
Without a job he turns to his old pal, Gil, Marc Blucas (Knight And Day, Buffy (TV)), who sets him up as a drug trafficker. To further enhance his career, Blucas decides to do some deals with a Mexican cartel.
When this deal goes down the pan, Vaughn finds himself incarcerated, though only in a lightly-secure prison.
As if Vaugh hasn’t gone through enough, he’s then told he has to pay the Mexican cartel back by getting himself transferred to a maximum security prison and killing someone they want out of the way. His motivation to do this? They have his wife.
If you haven’t seen Bone Tomahawk I urge you to check it out. I also warn you that it is a no-holds barred movie, Disney it ain’t.
From the moment I heard about Brawl In Cell Block 99 I was stoked to see it. Could Zahler pull off that tricky second album, I mean, film?
Whilst Brawl doesn’t have quite the same gut-wrenching scenes as Bone Tomahawk, it certainly has its moments. There are plenty of arm-breaks, tortures and head stomping.
However, Zahler also flexes his story telling muscles with Brawl. The first hour of the film is shot in a blue hue (which is usually a sign that the director wanted to go black and white but was stopped by the studios who don’t seem to like it these days), everything is drab.
This blue is lifted only when Vaughn is sent down. Suddenly the lights are turned on, everything is vibrant. It’s when the palette and indeed the film, comes alive.
I am not usually a fan of Vaughn’s films but he is outstanding in Brawl. He is steely-eyed and hard as stone as he punches his way through everyone to get the job done.
When Vaughn is finally transferred to the maximum security prison, his warden is the excellent Don Johnson (Miami Vice (TV), Django Unchained).
He’s a no-nonsense kind of warden and Cell Block 99 is reserved for particularly nasty pieces of work with, in his own words, items Amnesty International wouldn’t be pleased about.
It is a shame then that we don’t get to see more of Johnson, particularly Johnson vs Vaughn. That particular carrot is dangled but never comes to fruition.
The truth is, Brawl In Cell Block 99 isn’t going to be winning awards anytime soon. It looks like it was made quickly and cheaply (relatively speaking), the final shot (if you pardon the pun) is a give-away.
It’s a throw-back to the gory movies of the 80’s, the type Robert Rodriguez and his Troublemaker Studios would turn out.
If you liked Machete, Planet Terror, that sort of thing, you’ll love Brawl ln Cell Block 99. If you don’t, I think there’s a My Little Pony movie you can watch.