By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Two years ago Bone Tomahawk came out of nowhere to set S. Craig Zahler’s place in the filmmaking firmament as both a maven of anachronistically witty dialogue and a just straight brutal purveyor of B-movie gore. The mix works better than it has any right to, as Brawl in Cell Block 99 very much confirms.
Vince Vaughn stars as a car repairman with just the worst luck, who is drawn back into a life of crime and then finds himself in prison after a job gone wrong, with a Cartel leader holding his wife hostage and the near impossible task of killing another prisoner who happens to be in an entirely different prison. Good thing he can punch through goddamn steel.
If anything, Brawl in Cell Block 99 doubles down on Zahler’s trademark dialogue and horrific practice effects-driven violence, both laconically delivered by an entirely recognizable but nonetheless entirely perfect fit for the part Vince Vaughn. The camera just about never leaves him, and he commands the screen with the physicality it’s easy to forget Fred Claus has.
Fred Claus could break your puny neck if he felt like it.
Zahler paces this 134 minute film like it was an 80 minute grindhouse confection of pure nastiness from some lost VHS tape. However, half the film goes by without you realizing it and without even getting to the prison where the real brawls go down. It’s pure character and tone-building skill, but with enough action interspersed throughout that first hour plus that you don’t even notice the screenwriting at work.
When we do get to the prison, though, watch out. Don’t worry how long it took, because all the gritty fistfights you can shake a stick are delivered with utter and unflinching bone-crunching and head-stomping zeal. If you’re skittish of gore, you’ll likely hate this film despite its other pleasures, but if you’re a gorehound, well, you can’t possibly be disappointed.
One thing Zahler clearly hasn’t mastered, and doesn’t appear to have much desire to, is his now two film-running ugly digital cinematography streak. It’s functional enough, but while the angles are occasionally evocative and the framing is fine, the blue-tinted, washed out drabness just doesn’t need to be a thing in the year 2017.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 firmly establishes S. Craig Zahler as a truly unique voice in film, and Vince Vaughn as an instantly credible badass.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Vince Vaughn hits something with his fists
Do a Shot: for crushed or mangled heads, obviously