Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a bone-popping, skull-crushing thriller that’s not for the fainthearted. It’s dark, mature, and brutal — and has the potential to be quite special — but sadly struggles to find its rhythm.
Vince Vaughn, better known for his appearances in romantic comedies such as Delivery Man, puts in a vigorous performance as the devastatingly violent Bradley Thomas who we find punching his own car in a scene weirdly reminiscent of Fawlty Towers. After losing his job, Bradley turns to a lucrative life of drug-dealing to fuel a new start for himself and wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter) with whom he has a troubled past.
Unfortunately, the film’s wordy title is its own spoiler. The audience are left wondering for the first hour how and when the main character is going to find himself in a prison — and specifically ‘Cell Block 99’. Once eventually convicted Bradley is confronted with a harrowing ultimatum on which the entire film hinges, also rendering everything before just a prolonged prologue.
Don Johnson makes a hardened villain in Warden Tuggs who controls all goings-on at the aptly coined ‘Minimum Freedom prison’. Here Cinematographer Benji Bakshi does a fine job in composing shots to highlight Bradley’s increasing isolation.
The deliberate omission of a soundtrack means when it comes to the fight scenes — of which there are many — every bone-crack, every limb-snap is heard in its fullest.
Indeed, it’s a curious watch as Director Steven Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk) clearly wants it to be artistic and refined, but sometimes the action is more akin to that of a video game, with each punch perfectly choreographed and the recurring sense that our main character is invincible. That said, these gruesome scenes are without doubt a spectacle.
With gore that will make you gasp, Brawl In Cell Block 99 is probably not date night material.