As ultra-violent prison dramas go, Steven Craig Zahler‘s Brawl in Cell Block 99 pushes the envelope and really wails in a crazy caveman sort of way. The most rancid bad guys pay for their awfulness in the worst way when their arms and legs are snapped like twigs and their heads are pounded upon and opened up with all kinds of glistening brain matter spilling out. Somebody called it “a grade-A piece of meathead cinema.” I’ll go along with that.
It gets really hardcore in the third act. I mean really hardcore. I was watching it last night on Amazon and going “Jesus H. Christ…this is fetishy!” A lot of bruising hand-to-hand action. Fisticuffs, beatdowns, bone-snappings, eye-gougings.
And it’s a very right-wing thing. Zahler and Vaughn are serious righties (i.e., libertarians) in the Mel Gibson vein but not, as far as I know, Trumpies. And boy, are they into idolizing and protecting mothers and unborn children! I only know that the more a movie idolizes a loyal pregnant wife and the more the pregnant wife is threatened by sadistic villains, the more right-wing it is. Protect the pregnant mom with a big club! Protect the children, protect the bloodline!
The thing is that Brawl in Cell Block 99 is exceptionally well-made, and as uncomfortable as I am with head-squashing movies I have to at least convey respect for Zahler’s craft.
On top of which it establishes Vince Vaughn as the reigning right-wing action hero of the moment — a six-foot-five Mr. Clean who speaks quietly and politely with a gentle Southern accent and who thoroughly thinks things over before pounding guys and squashing skulls. It’s not really my kind of movie, but it’s kind of Zen in its approach to character and payoff. It takes its time, takes its time. Liam “paycheck” Neeson has announced that he’s finished with this kind of film. Vaughn is the right-wing heir apparent, a kind of successor to Clint Eastwood.
If anyone wants to make a new series of 21st Century Harry Callahan movies, a new manifestation of a right-wing rogue cop or soldier of fortune who despises p.c. lefties but plays it straight and clear on a personal basis, Vaughn is the guy.
It just needs to be understood that Zahler knows how to apply the right kind of discipline in the making of this kind of film, and that Vaughn knows how to play it cool and steady as he waits for the inevitable bad shit to happen. Badass bone-snapper! I will make you whine and beg for death.