Brawl in Cell Block 99: LFF Film Review

Vince Vaughn has been in a lot of duds in recent years, but I thought the tide was turning for him in last year’s Hacksaw Ridge, when he played an Army sergeant, and my prediction was right. He has seriously reinvented himself with Brawl in Cell Block 99, in which he plays a take-no-prisoners hardman with a large cross tattoo at the back of his shaved head.

He plays Bradley, who is fired from his car mechanic job so he becomes a drug runner to help provide for him and his pregnant wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter). After a job goes wrong and he shoots some associates, he is sent to prison for seven years. Soon after, Lauren is kidnapped and Bradley is told to kill someone in Cell Block 99 otherwise their baby will be aborted. Only problem is – the man in question isn’t even in Bradley’s prison.

For the first half, I thought the film had been given an unfair title as it suggested it was this mindless, violent rampage and it wasn’t. We spent a lot of time getting to know Bradley and his situation before he goes to prison. However, that is exactly what it becomes once Bradley realises he needs to get violent to move institutions and he basically just transforms into his bone-breaking, face-smashing machine.

It gets really violent and gross, and I honestly flinched and had to look away a few times and I have quite a strong stomach. There were a lot of wincing noises coming from my fellow audience members too. Action fans may find the first half kinda dull as it is slow and focussed on character building, but once it gets going, it doesn’t let up and really is full-on.

Vaughn is best known for being the wise-cracking douche in comedies so it is a complete 180 to see him kicking ass in this way. He is a tall guy and definitely built for it, so I’m glad he finally got that kind of role. He does it well, puts his charisma to good use, and looks convincing when he’s taking them out (and the fighting is all him). You completely forget about old Vince Vaughn.

Normally, I don’t like films that are violent just for the sake of it, but the quality of writing and characterisation helps here. Also, I found it actually quite fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and had plenty of jokes and comedy moments in there too. That combination shouldn’t work but it really does – and makes for one entertaining movie!

Screening as part of the 61st BFI London Film Festival. In cinemas 20th October

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