Like S. Craig Zahler‘s Bone Tomahawk, his Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017) is a pop movie (more or less) about the effort to survive or prevail and the human use, so often vile, of extreme violence.
Vince Vaughn plays Bradley, a man convicted and sentenced for delivering illegal drugs, whose biggest problem is that he is “indebted” to a beastly cartel boss (Dion Mucciacito). The boss takes Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter), Bradley’s pregnant wife, hostage—with the threat of killing her unborn child—in exchange for Bradley’s murder of a particular inmate in Cell Block 99.
Zahler both directed and wrote Brawl, with the savvy help of film editor Greg D’Aurin, purveying a realistically slow speed and mature, matter-of-fact action. It’s a brutal film, more uncompromising than anything you’ll see nowadays. One of the most striking things about it is the way Bradley and Lauren are forced to stay in two utterly medieval sites, fit only for mistreatment. The film’s cast is grippingly true, Don Johnson and Udo Kier no less than Vaughn. It has a blah title, but it’s an explosive picture.