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|Brawl in Cell Block 99
dir-scr S Craig Zahler
prd Jack Heller, Dallas Sonnier
with Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Marc Blucas, Udo Kier, Dion Mucciacito, Pooja Kumar, Geno Segers, Tom Guiry, Philip Ettinger, Clark Johnson, Fred Melamed
release WP Sep.17 vff
Briefly back on track: Carpenter and Vaughn
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
After infusing the Western with horrific new life in 2015's Bone Tomahawk, S Craig Zahler is back with a thunderous reinvention of the prison movie. Set in the present day but playing out like a 1970s exploitation thriller, this increasingly grisly story unfolds with choreographed precision, grinding the audience into its emotional depths with several genuinely hideous plot turns. And it's anchored by a superbly thoughtful/fierce performance from Vince Vaughn.
In upstate New York, Bradley (Vaughn) discovers that his wife Lauren (Carpenter) has been having an affair. After taking out his rage on her car, they have a reasonable discussion, realising that economic troubles are to blame rather than their recovering alcoholism. So Bradley goes to work for his drug-dealer pal Gil (Blucas), and happiness returns to their life until Bradley is arrested following a grisly shootout with the cops. Then a shady figure (Kier) tells him he needs to kill someone in the notorious Redleaf Penitentiary, ruled with cigar-chomping sadism by Warden Tuggs (Johnson).
Vaughn has beefed himself into a man mountain for the role. While Bradley's temper is boundless, he speaks in measured words that are scary in their precision, offering careful warns to anyone who crosses him. It's a clever combination of a strong against-type performance and fiercely controlled writing and direction. Each of the film's outrageously violent encounters is set out in an almost fantastical way, like a macabre dance that's impossible to take literally. And still we gasp all the way through it.
No one else has much of a chance to create a character. Carpenter is terrific as Bradley's tough-minded wife. Lauren may be the menaced-woman stereotype, but she gives Lauren an internal intensity that makes her feel like someone worth tearing down the world to protect. Aside from Blucas' relatively minor role, everyone else is a villain, up against the immovable object that is Bradley. They're all cocky and clearly doomed, but the actors have fun creating a variety of nasty figures who challenge Bradley either physically or verbally.
Zahler's approach to both the Western and the prison movie is to infuse everything with a sense of abject horror. But this film's B-movie stylings add a blast of funky attitude that continually takes the audience aback. The violence may be bone-snappingly revolting, but it's so absurd that it's somehow cathartic. And Bradley's single-minded approach to his messy situation is oddly inspirational, revealing a nobility we rarely see in movies like this.
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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