Limbs are snapped, spines are broken, and skulls are crushed… ‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’ is a gruelling plunge into prison hell, putting its protagonist through a pulverising gauntlet of self-destruction for the sake of his unborn child. And it is fantastic.
After being laid off from his job at an auto repair shop, Bradley Thomas reluctantly returns to his past life as a drug courier to provide for his pregnant wife. But after a pick up goes awry and ends in bloodshed, he is sentenced to 7 years in prison. Once inside, he is contacted by a mysterious man who promises that if Bradley does not assassinate a prisoner at a nearby maximum-security prison, then his unborn child will be surgically dismembered by a sadistic abortionist. With no other choice, Bradley must commit savage acts of violence to get closer to his target…
Any qualms about Vince Vaughn’s casting are soon dispelled. It’s an incredible, transformative performance. His character is imposing, brutally honest, direct, sarcastic, and altogether reasonable, his seemingly calm demeanour belying a rage waiting to be unleashed. We bare witness to him crossing the point of no return as the narrative moves ever closer to its inevitable conclusion – like his very own Event Horizon – and it’s gut-wrenching to behold.
S. Craig Zahler is a meticulous filmmaker, so anyone expecting brisk thrills would be wise to check out before they throw around comments like “boring” this film’s way. The story is straightforward but well written; the characters somewhat cold but fleshed out. And as we descend into the depraved depths of the prison environs, we are treated to carnage.
The violence within is unforgiving and not for the squeamish, yet the choreography is stunning. There’s nothing complicated about it, but it’s carried out in such an efficient fashion – and the sound effects so resoundingly realistic – that when Vaughn is bulldozing into targets and dispatching scum with sheer force you can’t hide your satisfaction as the gore soon begins to flood your senses.
Overall, ‘Brawl in Cell Block 99’ is an expertly made prison thriller that pushes itself into exploitation overdrive without sacrificing character and story. You root for the protagonist every step of the way even in his darkest moments, which is a testament to Zahler’s screenplay and Vaughn’s mesmerising portrayal.
Score – 9/10