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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.

Brawl In Cell Block 99: Vince Vaughn re­flects on True De­tec­tive sea­son two

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