Film Review: Brawl in Cell Block 99 – 8.5/10

‘I’d rather knit baby booties with pink yarn than hit people for no reason…’

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I believe it was Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “it’s in our nature to destroy ourselves”. It was either him or Papa Roach, I forget which. The point is, as a species we are drawn to violence, whether we like it or not. The sanitization of Hollywood means there is little place any more for the ultra violent action movie. And this is a shame. There are some flag-bearers still fighting the good fight however. John Wick, The Raid, Taken… these movies show that there is still a place in our hearts for watching a mans skull explode. And so… to Brawl in Cell Block 99.

Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn) can’t catch a break. He goes from trying to support his burgeoning family with a job as a drug runner to waking up in some kind of Kafkaesque nightmare in which his unborn child might have their limbs removed. Mondays, am I right?

Vaughn was much derided for his oh so serious turn in the much maligned second season of True Detective but this had more to do with the corny dialogue he was being forced to work with rather than anything inherently bad about his own performance. Brawl… is definitive proof that Vince Vaughn can carry a serious movie. He is physically imposing, darkly humorous and always fizzing with barely concealed rage in a turn that is surprisingly nuanced from the man who brought us Couples Retreat and Fred Claus.

There was a time in the ’70s and ’80s when the action genre was as shocking as horror in terms of extreme violence. Brawl… harks back to those halcyon days with a number of gasp inducing moments while also being much more than just an action film. Director S. Craig Zahler brings a dimly lit and claustrophobic edge to this prison drama that allows Vaughn to shine, sometimes literally.

In a sea of forgettable if enjoyable popcorn movies, Brawl in Cell Block 99 stands alone as a film with substance. A film with Vince Vaughn crushing skulls. A film unafraid to employ that old maxim that life is pain. Wallow in it as I did.

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