Let me start with Vince Vaughn. I remember seeing him for the first time in Swingers way back in the day. I would have never expected this kind of a performance from him. Much like Matthew Fox in Bone Tomahawk, he was pretty unrecognizable. Hell, even Don Johnson was barely recognizable. Whatever director S. Craig Zahler does to these people to bring out this kind of performance is nothing short of magical.
This starts off with Vaughn’s character losing his job and finding out his wife is having an affair. Obviously, he’s having a bad day, so he commences to trashing a car. Not just punching or kicking. He’s ripping the hood off the thing to let off steam. He then goes in to chat with his wife but not to abuse her in any way. He’s actually a decent guy, just doesn’t really appear to feel pain. So they work things out, and he goes on to drug running. Fast forward a year and a half and he’s stuck working with an unknown crew on a job that goes south. He gets arrested and thinks he’s going to do his time and everything would be cool. Unfortunately, the people he was doing the deal to have other ideas. I can’t say any more than this. You have to watch this in all its glorious and violent splendor. Udo Kier shows up; if you know his films you know the kind of character he typically plays.
What I can say is that the violence in this is just glorious! Things ratchet up as the film goes on. The anticipation for it all to explode in a bloody fury builds and builds until you’re at this moment where the film pauses for a bit and you know, you just know, something is coming. With the end violence in Bone Tomahawk, I knew something horrible was about to happen. Except Bone Tomahawk was so much more reserved throughout. Brawl in Cell Block 99 starts off brutal and does not let up for one minute. Vaughn plays this human wrecking ball flawlessly as the story unfolds in all its visceral glory.
The ending. I had to pause the player, hit the bathroom, and take a moment at the pause I mentioned earlier. I knew this was going to end with some magnificent bloodshed and I wanted to take a moment to soak in the anticipation and it was very much worth it! I was standing up and yelling at the screen as certain things unfolded. This really upped the ante on Bone Tomahawk. Instantly went into the buy pile.
Now as much as I loved this, there is trouble in paradise. I thought the performances were top notch but there were a few things that bugged me. First off, Jennifer Carpenter will forever be Dexter’s sister. So the whole time I watched this I kept seeing that character. The next issue was how Vaughn got arrested. This whole section was weird from the guys on the pier declaring the job done when they hadn’t even separated to the sub-machine guns and grenades. Vaughn’s character didn’t like the one guy carrying a handgun but a backpack full of hardware wasn’t an issue? Then the cops didn’t even see Vaughn’s character standing in the large pools of light, although they were a bit busy. For whatever reason, this part just seemed odd.
The last thing I have an issue with is the effects. There were times that you could tell it was a dummy being kicked around which isn’t going to detract from the overall but it was noticeable. Like the CGI blood in Midnight Meat Train. In some ways it kind of relieves tension I guess; that is if you notice the fault in the first place.
I will close by saying this isn’t for the squeamish at all. I feel like I just watched the live action version of the Condemned video game. Oh, and I nearly forgot the sound. I’m glad I have a sub on my surround system because there was some serious low end with jail cells closing and footsteps. How could I have forgotten the footsteps? I won’t even get into the weird Gestapo-like prison that Don Johnson was running. Let’s just say I’m a huge fan of this film and Zahler better keep this up because he’s batting a solid 1.000% in my book.