Who can forget the Vince Vaughn films The Break up, Couples Retreat, The Dilemma, The Internship or Unfinished Business? Thankfully just about everyone because these were pretty terrible movies that were in danger of overwhelming his filmography which had included some decent films including Swingers, Starksy and Hiutch, Dodgeball and now Brawl in Cell Block 99. The difference here is that Brawl in Cell Block 99 is very, VERY different from anything Vaughn has ever done before. Sporting a huge crucifix tattoo on the back of his shaved head, his 6 foot five build bulked out, he is a truly menacing presence. Having been fired from his job at a garage his day gets even worse when he gets home to find his wife is having an affair and he proceeds to punch her car to pieces with his bare fists. But what would be the end of his marriage for many he decides should be a new start and together they move forward funded by the unfortunate decision he makes to fund it by going back to running drugs.
Almost inevitably it goes awry and just as he finds his wife is pregnant with a much wanted baby he gets caught and banged up in prison. Resigned to the fact that he will not be there for the birth of his child or to see the child grow up he goes about getting on with doing his time until he is visited by Udo Kier, an actor not known for his restraint, so it’s clear from the off that what news he brings is not going to be good. And it isn’t. What he offers is a bribe- he instructs Vaughn to kill another prisoner, an easy enough offer to refuse until he shows him a film clip of his kidnapped and heavily pregnant wife and what he threatens is horrific and frankly tasteless in the extreme which is something of a mark of the work of writer /director S Craig Zahler. What makes the bribe even more difficult to carry out is that the prisoner he has to kill is in solitary confinement in a high security prison that is not the one Vaughan is in. What follows is a series of incidents as he battles to be transferred into the other prison run by an utterly sadistic warden played with gleeful relish by Don Johnson.
Director S Craig Zahler’s first film was Bone Tomahawk a western and horror genre mash up about cannibalistic Native American Indians and had some excruciating violence in it especially one scene that would have every man in the audience wincing. He’s as much a fan of onscreen violence as Tarantino and this follow up is no different because the violence in this is shocking albeit beautifully orchestrated with Vaughn’s fights seen in wide shots rather than the usual quickly edited fights we’ see so often that also cover up the pulled punches of lesser films. Zahler has made a slow deliberate and methodical film which despite running over two hours never drags and its steady pace pulls you into the centre of the ever increasing melee. Vaughn is magnificent in a role which may give his career a new lease of life in action films much the same way as Taken did for Liam Neeson. This is bold, brutal, bloody and brilliant.
Here’s the trailer…….