Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Brawl in Cell Block 99</strong> (2017)

(Hoopla Streaming, October 2018) Yuck. Prison movies have been a staple of Hollywood for decades, but the latest few examples of the form have been simply brutal. This does reflect the growing radicalization of the incarceration/industrial complex, with prison life being portrayed as merciless even in the best of cases. Brawl in Cell Block 99 pushes that tendency as far as it will go in a film that will leave viewers feeling soiled for watching it. Like most prison movies, it begins with a somewhat innocent man being at the wrong place at the wrong time and getting incarcerated for his troubles. But there is little isolation between prison life and outside life when his wife and unborn child are directly threatened by an organized crime group. Our protagonist doesn’t have a lot of choice: He’s going to have to become more brutal than even the biggest brutes in order to save his family. Writer/Director S. Craig Zahler turned a few stomachs with his gory western debut Bone Tomahawk and he’s back for worse here—Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a prison drama with gore exceeding most horror movies and I won’t describe what you’d see because even the description will gross you out. But worse than the images is the unbearably bleak atmosphere of the film, which reinforces its hopeless message with a harsh colour palette that underscores the artificiality of the story. It doesn’t end particularly well, but Brawl in Cell Block 99 teaches its audience to expect the very worst very early on. While I’m not all that happy with the result, special mention must be made of Vince Vaughn’s unusual performance as the protagonist, playing his natural bulk as an imposing physical presence and never once resorting to the man-child persona that made him famous. I’m not really looking forward to Zahler’s next film, though.

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