A former boxer loses his job as an auto mechanic, and his troubled marriage is about to expire. At this crossroads in his life, he feels that he has no better option than to work as a drug courier. He soon finds himself in a gunfight between police officers and his own ruthless allies. When the smoke clears, Bradley is badly hurt and thrown in prison, where his enemies force him to commit acts of violence that turn the place into a savage battleground.
If the Psycho remake destroyed Vince Vaughn’s serious film career, then Brawl In Cell Block 99 will most definitely wreck his long established comedy one as after the credits roll, you’ll never see Vaughan in the same light again! Make no mistake, the man who is probably well known for films like Wedding Crashers and Dodgeball is a revelation here. If Jack Bauer ended up in the same cell as his Bradley Thomas, even the former agent from CTU would think twice before starting a fight. This man is brutal, takes no prisoners and yet we sympathise with him every step of the way and carries the heartbeat that this film so desperately wants the viewer to hear beating.
S. Craig Zahler’s follow-up to Bone Tomahawk is a gruelling two hours that at times will stretch your patience but also make you cover your eyes when the violence hits. There is a sense of doom right from the off as we know from the title that Bradley will end up in prison, but how he gets there and why will leave you hooked from the moment we discover his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter) having an affair. He may look a brute with his shaved, tattooed head and you expect him to go and look for her lover, but Bradley takes it out on her car and then goes into the house and sits and talks, tells her he loves her and wants to prove that they can make it work. Its a lengthy conversation, something Zahler does love within this film, but it shows that despite the image, Bradley is a good man and already as a viewer, we on-board with him.
This is proved as the film skips forward and we discover Lauren is now pregnant and everything Bradley promised, he fulfilled. How is he getting the money? As a drug runner, a pretty good one, but this career flaw is the one that sends his whole world crashing down around him as a drug deal goes wrong and he finds himself locked up for a few years. Any hope of a good behaviour release is quickly out of the window when those annoyed at the bungled job and loss of money want him to do one last job and kill someone while he is inside. This comes with a number of problems, first he wants out to see his child born and to grow up and secondly the other prisoner is locked away in another secure prison for the criminally dangerous and insane, which means a transfer to a place he may never get out of. But as the bad guys are threatening Lauren and his unborn child if he doesn’t follow this order, he is left with no choice.
Its here that Vaughn is reborn as an action star. Honestly he is a revelation, bringing an understanding to the role, we sad for him and the ordeal he is going through and while he seems like a reasonable man, when the fight starts and the blood starts to flow, he is one of the most menacing good guys I have seen for a while. The fights seem real, because the film oozes with quality as, when a punch is thrown, we too are feeling its impact. .
Zahler really is a director of real promise. His film debut Bone Tomahawk was released too much critical acclaim and you can see that he’d rather invest in long talkative scenes than unnecessary violence. In the wrong hands, Bradley would just be a thug with no remorse, but what we end up with is a surprising film with a huge heart, even though at times its the most blackest of one. It takes an age to actually get to the prison setting and yet even more before Don Johnson turns up as a Warden and while I understand many will fail to be enticed by the slow burn pace that engulfs the whole premise, those who stick with it may end up shocked at the gratuitous violence that occurs towards the climax. Its not pretty! Not gentle and will have even those hardcore, looking away.
Brawl In Cell Block 99 is a grim taste of a life no one would want to suffer. It proves that two films in, Zahler is on the verge of becoming the next generation Quentin Tarantino and Vince Vaughn, all is forgiven for Norman Bates all those years back. Not only is this a career best performance, but if there is any justice then hopefully the word will get out and this should do for him what Pulp Fiction did for the likes of John Travolta.
He was fantastic in a magnificent film that was one of 2017’s best offerings…….