Vince Vaughn is back with a show of bone-crunching menace

Brawl in Cell Block 99 review: Vaughn has never brooded bigger and badder than he does here

Brawl in Cell Block 99
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Director: S. Craig Zahler
Cert: Club
Genre: Action
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Udo Kier, Marc Blucas, Tom Guiry
Running Time: 2 hrs 12 mins

Is there any end to the mighty talents of director, producer, cinematographer, and sometime novelist Steven Craig Zahler? As with his terrific horror-western Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99 makes space for the film-maker's ingenious musical compositions, in this instance performed in the medium of endearing cod-Philadelphia soul.

There are many more reasons to be cheerful about this relentless entertainment. Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a comeback and a showcase for the bone-dry delivery of Vince Vaughn, who has never brooded bigger and badder than he does here.

A slow-burning overture introduces Bradley – not Brad – Thomas (Vaughn), a car mechanic who is laid off only to return home (early) and discover that his wife, Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter, a mesmerising mass of nerve endings), is having an affair.

Aggravated, he gets into the best screen fight with a car since Basil Fawlty administered a damn good thrashing to that Austin, before sitting down to talk it out with his missus.


For all its catchy genre beats – Udo Kier as a chilling heavy, Don Johnson as a cigar-chomping, sadistic warden – Brawl takes its sweet time with backstory and motivations. Show, don't tell, is Zahler's cinema-friendly mantra.

We spend some time with Bradley as a smart, meticulous, family-oriented drug-runner until a chain of events points him towards the facility of the title. Along the way, there is splendid bone-crunching violence, including the best destruction of a human head since the notorious watermelon-smash effects of Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.

Often it feels like we're rewatching a midnight movie classic ahead of a specialist pub quiz. (What's the name of the boat Bradley uses? The Lazy Shark!) This is a pastiche subgenre that many have attempted before and almost as many have failed dismally to emulate.

Not here. Brawl is the possibly-ideologically-dodgy punch-'em-up you need to see right now. And take note: the Vaughnaissance is happening, people. Stay tuned for Zahler's third feature, Dragged Across Concrete, featuring Vaughn and Mel Gibson.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic