Sunday, November 26, 2017

Movie Review: "Brawl in Cell Block 99" (2017)

Director: S. Craig Zahler
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes

Drug mule and all-around tough guy Bradley Thomas is sent to prison after a pick-up goes wrong. Once inside, he is blackmailed to kill another inmate by the dealer whose shipment was lost.

Judging by the title, "Brawl in Cell Block 99" isn't quite what we expected, but that's not a bad thing in this instance. It's good to see Vince Vaughn tackling a different kind of role as he sidesteps away from his previous characters like "fast-talking wise ass insert name here" and "loveable goofball insert name here." He finally gets to put his towering 6'5" (196 cm) frame to good use as tough guy drug runner Bradley Thomas. S. Craig Zahler is the writer and director of this project. His previous film "Bone Tomahawk" received a lot of critical praise and has been highly regarded in the cinephile community, though we found it to be a bit slow.

"Brawl in Cell Block 99" centers around the aforementioned Bradley Thomas, a large, stoic, God-fearing individual who has the occasional outburst of rage and violence. You can tell right away he is a man not to be trifled with, but some people go about trifling anyway. When Bradley is laid off from his job as a mechanic, he takes up work running drugs for an old friend, who is trying to expand his operation. He makes a deal with another big-time drug dealer named Eleazar, played by Dion Mucciacito, and asks Bradley to make the pickup. Bradley is reluctant but agrees with the promise he will have ample time off when his wife gives birth to their baby. Of course, things go drastically wrong and Bradley winds up in jail. Eleazar blames Bradley for everything that went wrong and proceeds to blackmail him to kill another inmate. As Bradley has to make his way to cell block 99, his wife Lauren, played by Jennifer Carpenter, is left vulnerable on the outside.

As you can tell, this movie has a lot of set up. It is very apparent that as a director, S. Craig Zahler is a fan of making slow-burning action thrillers. There is quite a bit of story before Bradley even gets to prison, and then it takes more time to get to the titular "Brawl in Cell Block 99." That slow pacing didn't always work for us in "Bone Tomahawk," but it certainly works for us here because Bradley Thomas is such an interesting character. We are invested in what happens to him the moment he appears on the screen. This is a transformative role for Vince Vaughn and he performs his part extremely well. Gone are the days of goofy Teen Choice award winner™ Vince Vaughn, please welcome the looming, intimidating, gruff, badass Vince Vaughn. Don Johnson also does a fantastic job as Tuggs, the no-nonsense gives-no-flying-fucks wicked warden whose job it is to make Bradley's life as much of a living hell as possible. Once the action scenes start happening, they are brutal, intense, and gory. It is apparent that Zahler also likes ample amounts of carnage. The style of violence and effects are very reminiscent of what you might see in 70's grindhouse cinema (this is definitely not a complaint). Some of the more violent moments may take you aback. Vince Vaughn sells them completely.

"Brawl in Cell Block 99" is one of the year's best dramatic crime thrillers. The story is engaging, the brutality is captivating, and the characters are ones you connect with instantly. We wound up enjoying this methodically slow, over the top, extremely savage film.


My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 92%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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