Gun Fights, Hostages and Broken Bones – Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Film Review)

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a brutal account of one man’s journey to the most punishing incarceration imaginable. Former boxer Bradley (Vince Vaughn) falls on hard times when he loses his job as a mechanic and faces the breakdown of his marriage. At this crossroads in his life, Bradley feels that he has no better option than to work as a drug courier in a bid to turn his fortunes around and provide a comfortable life for his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter). But just as his situation improves, a savage gun fight lands him in jail. Once in jail he finds himself backed into a corner, forced to commit ever more ferocious acts of violence across a vicious prison battleground on the path to the most dangerous confinement of all – Cell Block 99.

Vaughn’s portrayal of character Bradley is easily the most powerful and transformative performance of his career to date. Audiences are most likely used to seeing Vaughn in a shameless romantic comedy, and he’s certainly done his fair share of them. However this time around he is playing a very different type of character, one with a lot more depth and diversity. Brawl in Cell Block 99 really shows how versatile Vaughn is as an actor, he is fantastic as the intelligent yet slightly psychotic Bradley.

The film has an interesting premise with a lot of potential, however as the plot unfolds it becomes clear that the narrative isn’t quite as strong as it could have been. Brawl in Cell Block 99 feels a little dragged out and overlong, it is easy to lose interest in the beginning particularly and it also feels as though so much more could have been done with the story. Instead we see Bradley get lost in a world of mindless violence.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is described as a thriller although it doesn’t meet any of the criteria of this genre. Director S. Craig Zahler fails to use any suspension to create build-ups or an atmosphere, there is no ongoing mystery or puzzle for the audience to solve and no last minute big twist or shocking moment – all of the things you would normally see in a typical thriller. There is however a lot of violent action, so take note, this film is definitely not for the faint hearted! A few of the scenes make for some very unpleasant viewing.

Although Vaughn’s performance is a great highlight to the film, his character becomes somewhat unbelievable as the film goes on. Perhaps it is because not enough of Bradley’s background is revealed to the audience, but to see an averagely built man effortlessly win fights against men twice his size is a bit unrealistic. Bradley is a former boxer, although seems to be capable of more than just good boxing as he performs violent acts you definitely don’t learn in a boxing ring. It begs the question, how did he get so good at fighting? A question that goes unanswered.

The key with Brawl in Cell Block 99 is not to have high expectations. It’s a bit silly, a bit unrealistic and very violent, although these may be the key ingredients to a perfect film for a lot of people. It’s the type of film that appeals to a certain audience. If you’re a fan of Vince Vaughn and want to watch a fantastic performance I’d recommend watching, or if you just happen to like gun fights and a lot of violent action, it definitely won’t disappoint. Avoid if you can’t stomach bone crunching violence!

Dir: S. Craig Zahler

Prd: Jack Heller and Dallas Sonnier

Scr: S. Craig Zahler

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Marc Blucas

Music by: Jeff Herriott and S. Craig Zahler

Year: 2017

Country: USA

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 26th December 2017.