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Brawl In Cell Block 99 – Review (London Film Festival)

Brawl In Cell Block 99 Review (London Film Festival)

Vince Vaughn goes from half-assed to hardass in this rock solid beat-em-up from the director of Bone Tomahawk.

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Udo Kier
Director: S. Craig Zahler

A tough brawler of a mechanic (Vaughn) loses his job and turns back to drug-running to support his pregnant wife (Carpenter, via heroin chic). But when a pickup goes wrong he lands himself in jail and the gangsters he betrayed blackmail him to fight his way deeper into the prison system, to a maximum security institution where he’ll have to kill a particular inmate to free his now kidnapped wife…

Hard-edged exploitation flick from the writer-director of Bone Tomahawk. After several years of lackadaisical work in awful comedies, Vince Vaughn decided to return to dramatic-thrillers and here he steps up three gears to give the best performance of his career. He’s totally convincing as a shaven-headed, southern-drawled hardass. His arm-breaking, head-stamping brawls are extremely entertaining, often shot in one wide take to highlight the choreography.

As with Bone Tomahawk, there’s fantastic cowboy-y dialogue, one-liners and speeches. It’s also most amusing when it chooses to be, as in the check-in sequence. Director S. Craig Zahler realised that the grotesque scalping scene at the end of Bone Tomahawk became great talking-point marketing and so finds equally shocking, and effective, moment(s) for the final act here. Vaughn’s frustrated Street Fighter take down of a car earlier is pretty memorable too.

Brawl In Cell Block 99 Review (London Film Festival)
On the downside for some, it has a deliberately sauntering pace, and no sooner has one location been established than he’s off to the next one. The jail sets are small-scale and somewhat unconvincing. And when Vaughn derobes he doesn’t exactly have the body of a fighting machine.

Still, Zahler is becoming a bonafide auteur, and echoes Tarantino’s ability to tap the unseen potential of an actor who seemed spent.

Grade: A-

Brawl In Cell Block 99 is out in UK and US cinemas now, and available on iTunes in the UK.

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