"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.
Now that's a genuine slow burner... this shit is creeping up on you while you're trying to figure out where this is going. There's one moment when you finally say WTF! and then it's an uphill of a real gore treat. This dude knows how to exploit. He couldn't possibly copy the classics, he's just too smart for that!
Here's what I texted a friend after watching: "Never thought I'd see a hyperviolent cross between Finding Nemo and Unforgiven but here we are." Had me squirming the whole time. Really good casting, almost every role has a pop to it. Vince handled his large number of great lines well. He's very funny in the way normal ass people are sometimes funny.
Riffing on classic exploitation with almost comic levels of violence and story, but ultimately transcending its stylistic roots by embracing a pervading undercurrent of melancholy and a spiralling loss of freedom that comes from serious, grounded commentary on the prison system. This is highlighted brilliantly in not only its gradually darkening cinematography but a brutal, emotionally rich performance from Vaughn.
Brutal with a capital b.. the story was very straight forward, and vince vaughn's character was an enigma, couldn't read him, very cold and stoic, but holy shit could he kill dudes like they were made of potato chips. won't be forgetting the "face against the floor" scene anytime soon
Anonymously directed, shot and framed like a film school thesis and most offensively, often boring as shit. Politically confused, mindlessly paced and ultimately a pretty useless piece of trash cinema. It gets one star simply for its 30 minute finale which finally finds its footing as the pulpy, ultra violent trash film it struggles to be for its first 90 minutes.