I actually thought of the horrendous 'Bone Tomahawk' when I was watching the meandering in this movie. I swear to God I thought they were going to film him going to the bathroom. Brutal and pointless like 'Bone Tomahawk'.
When I saw 'Bone Tomahawk' a few months ago, I already felt that S. Craig Zahler would be a director to watch. Now I know. When watching 'Brawl In Cell Block 99' tonight, I suddenly realized that, finally, someone would join John Carpenter in the B movies Pantheon. Don't look further, S. Craig Zahler is the worthy successor of the hero of our teenage years. Thank you, Craig! Masterpiece.
The plot is watchable and serviceable, yet the exposition is taxing and could've easily been cut by half its length. It's a carbon copy of all the ordinary character cliches and plot arcs of its subgenre. Like Bone Tomahawk, nothing is unique or striking aside from Zahler's glee in the violent setpieces. At least, Zahler's action scenes work here more than they did in Bone Tomahawk.
4.5. An extra half-star for Zahler's grimly eager willingness to make this thing toxic from skin to bones--it's not hard to imagine it being embraced enthusiastically by nativist assholes--without, thanks to a miraculous performance perpetrated by Vince Vaughn, sacrificing sympathy, humanity, or heart.
Here's a movie based on a strict video game logic (go from point A to point B, collect item C to kill the boss etc.) and a narrative overtly based on exploitation and grindhouse flicks of the '70s. A deranged homage to the past. A killer cast (Udo Kier! Don Johnson!). Truly dememented dialogues! Gore and splatter like it's raining cats and dogs! I mean, what's not to love?
"Brawl in Cell Block 99" is an overwhelming epic about grimy knuckle written by blood on blueish rubbish heap of crime, in which a cross engraved on a bare scalp sublimates kind of banal & simple story of violence into the sublime dirge dedicated to grindhouse movies. For sublimity and holiness with Sachlichkeit, S. Craig Zahler is Robert Bresson in American contemporary cinema. Yeah, I'm dead serious.
To define Zahler's throwback film as "exploitation" is to disregard its emotional truth. Brawl is tough to watch, but it never settles with being sensationalist or controversial. There's a purpose to the violence, and it's driven by a moral compass, impressive restraint and an expertly told narrative. Brawl is the type of American cinema that isn't being made anymore, one that the industry so desperately needs.
S. Craig Zahler can join Jeremy Saulnier and Denis Villeneuve on the shortlist of the most interesting genre filmmakers working today. His latest, "Brawl in Cell Block 99," is a whip-smart neo-noir that slowly transforms before our eyes into a grimly humorous midnight movie, as we watch Vince Vaughn's character descend into a fascist netherworld where his only recourse is the extreme limits of bodily violence.