Brawl in Cell Block 99 (USA 2017)

I had an opportunity to see Brawl on Cell Block 99 at a theater in south Florida last month, but passed on it for reasons I can’t remember. Having now seen it (streaming for free for Amazon Prime members), I wish I’d seen it in the theater.

It is an exploitation throwback of sorts, the kind that Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson were so good at in the late 1960s well into the 80s - a wronged man on the warpath out for blood, odds stacked against him, only his indomitable will standing between him and the grave - good stuff. Revenge movies are my favorite sub-genre, so this was tailor-made for me.


Vince Vaughn plays the heavy here, a luckless fighter named Bradley Thomas. In short order, he loses his job, catches his wife cheating on him and has to make a decision about where he wants his life to go. Skipping ahead 18 months, he winds up in medium security prison, and then through a very silly plot device, maximum security prison, all the way to Cell Block 99.

The max prison is run by the warden (Don Johnson) who wears all black (including black gloves) and puffs on a cigar while explaining all the things that are about to go wrong in Bradley’s life.

Bradley is then introduced to the Hostel-like torture chamber hidden in the bowels of the ancient prison, and is fitted with an electrical stun belt before being ushered into his room, one similar to the space occupied by Miggs and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

You need no more description - either this is for you, or it’s not. The violence is ultra- and graphic, and Vaughn is oddly effective in his Andre the Giant-like fighting style, including clubs for fists and a seemingly infinite reservoir for enduring and ignoring pain.

Vaughn is supposedly one of the more conservative members of the Hollywood A-list, and is revered on the farther parts of the right in the same way that Mel Gibson is. There is a great deal of subtle-yet-obvious appealing to the right throughout the film, the notions of honor, morality, right/wrong, the flag, the South, etc hitting the notes without being jingoistic.

It’s a pleasant wayside attraction, one I’m happy to recommend.

Creede Kurtz

I write about the movies I see and a few other things.
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