Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, and Don Johnson star in this bloody thriller from Bone Tomahawk writer-director S. Craig Zahler, in which a former boxer turned drug runner lands in a prison battleground after a deal gets deadly.
Brawl in Cell Block 99
S. Craig Zahler
On the spurs of his gnarly horror western Bone Tomahawk, writer-director S. Craig Zahler once more methodically distills genre tropes into a devilish jack-in-the-box structure, carefully winding them towards a climactic eruption of shocking violence. Here, Zahler's finely tuned escalation operates within the confines of the prison film. The featured inmate, Bradley Thomas, is a patient but boiling confluence of muscle and morality, portrayed with hulking stoicism by a remarkable Vince Vaughn.
After a post-layoff indiscretion incites him to pulverize his wife's car with his bare hands, Bradley resolves to salvage his depressed marriage by returning to the financial gains of running drugs for a local gangster. This buys him a brief reprieve of happiness and security, but before long also a jail sentence and a sinister threat from the exquisitely cast Udo Kier. It is at this juncture that the proverbial floor begins to drop out, and what begins as a sober crime drama magnificently descends into a nightmare so deranged that it will slack-jaw even the most jaded Midnight maven.
Memorable authoritarian performances from Don Johnson, Mustafa Shakir, and Fred Melamed further apply pressure to Vaughn's put-upon protagonist as he simmers his way to solitary, and Zahler soaks each interaction with delicious pulp and wit, before finally releasing the valve and delivering a punctuation mark most brutal and bloody.