Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Review

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
Rent Brawl in Cell Block 99 on Amazon Video
Written by: S. Craig Zahler
Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Starring:  Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson
Rated: NR [R]
Watch the trailer 

A former boxer turned drug runner must resort to using his fists to save his family.

This is violent and gory, relaying the story of a man that will go to any length to save his family. Vince Vaughn does an amazing job as the stoic protagonist, a quip at the ready regardless of the situation. His power defies logic, but this amped up on the rails fight movie crafts a character we hope succeeds and are willing to follow. While this isn't a new concept, the attention to detail and subtlety make this a treat. It's not enough to kidnap his family, this provides gruesome details of what will happen if he fails. We get a feeling of where this brutal, relentless, and frequently horrifying tale is going and it will keep you riveted until the end.
Watch it.

The first S. Craig Zahler movie I saw was Bone Tomahawk (2015), read my review. That was a genre mashup of horror and western bolstered by a direct story and accentuated with sharp dialog. Based on that movie alone I was going to watch anything else Zahler released. Brawl is Zahler's next movie, again relying on a simple story, great details, and quotable dialog.

Bradley, not Brad, is fired and discovers his girlfriend is cheating on him in the same afternoon. He orders her inside and then destroys her car with his fists. He's a beast of a man, but he removed his anger before talking to her. I don't know if he could tear up the car as depicted, but the message is clear. This guy has some rage and he uses his fists, but he's self aware enough to not fly off the handle at someone else.

He gets back into drug running. He's the big boss's top guy. We see that in the way he talks to his boss as an equal when his boss tries to rope him into a pick up with two unknown guys Bradley would rather avoid. He's got great instincts, but the boss gets him to agree. It's a great scene picking up the drugs with the other two men in silence as they get on the boat and swim down for the trunk.
Bradley gets a sense that the situation isn't right and cuts bait to run. The other guys ignore him and walk into a shoot out. Bradley could have left and stayed out of it, but he goes back. It's not to help the two associates he doesn't trust though. Bradley has some level of morality, and he had to know going back was only going to break bad for his future.

I always see Vince Vaughn as the affable goof, but True Detective Season 2 really changed my mind. Vaughn was great, even if the writing left a bit to be desired. He's committed in Brawl. He's an imposing figure, but we get a lot of insight into him quickly in the first few scenes.
Bradley is stuck in jail, but needs to get transferred to a maximum security prison to complete a job and save his family. He fights a prison guard and that gets gruesome. We've seen he has some level of morality, but when it comes to protecting his family he will go as far as necessary. He's a man resigned to his fate. I wondered if he ever stopped to question what he was doing, but this is always going in one direction. He'll do whatever it takes and he ends up at a prison with a warden played by Don Johnson. This prison encompasses the worst of every prison you've ever seen. Much like Bone Tomahawk, this is gruesome in ways I've never seen. You begin to think nothing good can happen in this movie, and it knows that. In a conversation between Bradley and his wife, he knows his time is nearing, but she doesn't and that is brutal.

This has a very measured pace. It's methodical and precise. It's one thing for movies to kidnap family, but this twists it into something obscene. Just the description of what will happen is rough, but it's the details that elevate this. Brawl isn't content to rely solely on a kidnapping trope, there are gruesome repercussions. Bradley doesn't just beat up a guard, he viciously breaks his arm. His cell floor is lined with glass shards and the warden has no problems torturing and killing inmates. While a prison like this would throw up more than a few red flags, this hell hole of place really ramps up the feeling of dread.

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