BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99
Directed by S. Craig Zahler. Starring Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Marc Blucas. 132 mins. In cinemas now
8+0%' 8#7)*0 +5 572'4$ +0 5.19 $740+0) )4+0&*175' (.+%-
There’s a video-game efficiency to S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl
In Cell Block 99, a stylish harkback to ’70s grindhouse that sees its lead character descend into dark depths of violence. Abandoning his usual jittery comic stylings,
Vince Vaughn plays the stoical and intriguingly righteous criminal Bradley Thomas.
With his shaved head and tattoos, the character – a former boxer – has a surprising code of ethics. Sure, when he discovers his wife has been unfaithful, he literally tears off her car roof in frustration – but only after he’s calmly told her to exit the vehicle and go inside. And when a drug-run goes bad, he refuses to needlessly kill anyone, unlike the trigger-happy criminals he has reluctantly teamed up with.
Though Bradley’s honourable criminal shtick doesn’t save him from a conviction, he plans to quietly serve his time and return to his family. But when a drug boss concocts a vicious blackmail plan, the character is forced to make his way down to the dank maze of maximum security, to confront the most heinous criminals – and the only way he can get there is by acting pretty heinous himself.
Vaughn’s performance is fascinating, subtly upending each aspect of the overdone antihero trope. Bradley’s restraint echoes Zahler’s filmmaking style. His vice-like grip on pacing and tension dominates the film’s slow-burning first hour, before Bradley’s violent quest begins – and it’s truly brutal.
As bones crunch, skulls shatter and eyeballs are gouged, Zahler’s camera observes the lurid action with elegant tracking shots, evoking Bradley’s calm determination.
A perfect example of a down-and-dirty exploitation flick done well.
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