Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Written by: S. Craig Zahler
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Udo Kier, Marc Blucas
Unfettered gruesome violence has become its own genre because of the way it plays the audience’s thirst for fighting but then giving far too much with the gratuitous nature of it all. Brawl in Cell Block 99 gives more than most can handle and wraps around a decent story to bundle it all into something proficiently realized.
Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn) has retired from boxing and has found a way to support his family by becoming a mule for drug operations. After what could be his final run, he gets imprisoned and must carry out a hit in order for his wife to remain safe from the hands of the drug traffickers.
The story of this film has blissful simplicity as it sets up the characters and the goal needing to be accomplished by Bradley in order to have some semblance of a happy ending. Bradley could be described as a man of a few words. He holds in his emotions close to the vest, but when his anger takes over, he demonstrates an overwhelming strength, which serves to remind the audience of his past profession as a boxer. The physicality of this character allows someone like Vince Vaughn to remind us of his staggering stature. As a man mostly doing comedies in his career, he has been shot to not overwhelm the other characters. However, this film reminds you of his 6’5” height and the amount of damage he could cause. It almost became unsettling to see someone known for being soft in the comedic world turn into a wrecking ball of damage in the character of Bradley. Vaughn does not typically take on these types of roles, but his good performance in this film shows he has a bright future ahead of him if he chooses to take it.
In the effort of protecting his wife and his unborn child, Bradley must find his way into a maximum-security prison and kill a specific man the drug traffickers request. He reluctantly takes the offer and gets into fights to get himself transferred from a medium-security prison for only seven years to a maximum-security for what will most likely become a life sentence. Through his descent, as what seems to be hell, the film demonstrates how with each layer of the prison system, things only get worse. Now, I am not entirely sure how accurate the circumstances may be, but as he gets into the territory of the foulest criminals, the condition dramatically worsens. He goes from a regular prison cell to one filled with broken glass and a literal hole for a toilet. It provides this grungy experience, as he must ruin his own prospects in order to protect the ones he loves.
The violence becomes the calling card of the feature as Bradley utilizes his strength and fighting ability to work through his foes with incredible ease. The imagery and brutality get incredibly overwhelming for anyone who may get squeamish at the copious amounts of blood gushing out from the people Bradley punches. Brutality and the exasperation of pain become the point of the feature and it works incredibly well at that level. It has become a calling card for director S. Craig Zahler as he tells these dirty and gruesomely violent stories with incredibly flawed men at the center. He has shown his affinity for showing the unrelenting physical damage, which can be caused by men and how it can leave a mark. It gives someone like Vince Vaughn the opportunity to work in a different capacity and highlights his abilities to work outside of comedy.
Everything about this story remains incredibly straightforward as it shows once again why one should never get involved in the drug game. No one ever gets a happy ending. You either end up in jail or taking a bullet to the head, which the characters of this film learn as they try to operate the consequences within this line of work. Brawl in Cell Block 99 will provide several moments where you’ll want to look in a different direction from the grotesque violence on display, but through the harm, the story comes through and shows who these characters are at their core.