Prison break

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 | A bald­headed Vince Vaughn comes out swing­ing…

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Those who saw S. Craig Zahler’s west­ern Bone Tom­a­hawk will know that he’s a writer-di­rec­tor who un­der­stands the power of movie vi­o­lence. From its very ti­tle, his lat­est film, Brawl In Cell Block 99, in­di­cates that we’re in for a bruis­ing en­counter. “It’s just the story I want to tell,” Zahler shrugs. “My writ­ing process is to sur­prise my­self: when I get dark – and my imag­i­na­tion can get pretty damn dark – then I have to do some­thing that I find darker.”

A love story wrapped in­side a prison movie, Brawl sees Vince Vaughn’s in­car­cer­ated, shaven-headed dru­grun­ner faced with a dilemma: kill a fel­low in­mate or his kid­napped wife Lau­ren (Jen­nifer Car­pen­ter) will see their un­born child’s arms and legs re­moved by an abor­tion­ist. “The shit that came out of his mouth when I wrote it, I prob­a­bly shouldn’t have writ­ten it,” ad­mits Zahler. “And that’s ex­actly why it’s in there.”

Yet this predica­ment is ex­actly the mo­ti­va­tion needed for Vaughn’s Bradley Thomas, “a man with a lot of vi­o­lence in­side him” who only re­turned to nar­cotics dis­tri­bu­tion to pro­vide for his fam­ily-to-be. Worse still, Bradley is not even in the right jail to com­plete his mis­sion. Af­ter beat­ing on ev­ery guard in sight, he gets a trans­fer to Red Leaf max­i­mum se­cu­rity, the prison from hell run by Don John­son’s sadis­tic war­den.

What re­ally stands out are the elec­tric fight scenes, as Bradley brawls his way into Block 99. The re­sult makes even the fi­nale of Bone Tom­a­hawk seem timid. “I didn’t want to put my ac­tors in a sit­u­a­tion where they all get hurt,” says Zahler. “There was never the mo­ment, ‘Are we going to need to stop shoot­ing?’ But we needed to have peo­ple who were game.”

The cast must have en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence, as Zahler is now shoot­ing cop drama Dragged Across Con­crete with Vaughn, Car­pen­ter and John­son. But de­spite an­other bru­tal-sound­ing ti­tle, Zahler assures us it’s not all blood­shed. “I’m as in­vested in the dra­matic por­tion as the vi­o­lence.” Get the ban­dages ready just in case.

ETA | 20 OC­TO­BER / BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 OPENS NEXT MONTH. REAd TF’S RE­vIEW ON P45.

HARd CELL Vince Vaughn as drug-run­ning con Bradley, who must scrap his way through prison to save his un­born child’s limbs. Yes, you read that right.

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