Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Brawl in Cell Block 99 ***1/2 (2017)

Prison movies are known for the tropes: bad food, survival, evil wardens and so on. Brawl In Cell Block 99 sets up its audience for the tropes and knocks them down in a violent cinematic journey. Vince Vaughn gives the performance of his life as Bradley Thomas, a man with a violent past who's trying to make something of his life. Brawl begins with Bradley losing his job as a repo man and then discovering his girlfriend Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter) has two timed him. From that point on - expect the unexpected. Through a series of coincidences and bad luck Bradley ends up back in the slammer where his troubles really begin.

S. Craig Zahler made an impressive debut with his Neo-Western Bone Tomahawk in 2015 and here continues to subvert genre expectations. In the first half of the film we follow Bradley try to keep his life and relationship together and the second half goes for extremes and surreal violence. The fight scenes are brutal. There's echoes of Tarantino's jujitsu plot shifts and John Carpenter's pulsating narratives from the 1980s.

Brawl In Cell Block 99 features a chilling supporting performance from Don Johnson as a sadistic Warden, whose motto is "freedom is minimal." Frankly, the maximum security prison looks like something from the darkest depths of dystopian lore.  

Yet the film is not all brutality for brutality's sake, there's a real story being told. A visceral and unforgettable film. 

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