The sudden surge of dramatic and serious performances Vince Vaughn has given us in these past few years is somewhat intriguing. Moving away from the likes of Dodgeball and The Break Up to focus on a career that has blossomed into something greater, Vaughn is full of surprises in Craig S. Zohler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99.
Ditching the gym shorts he donned in Dodgeball for a prison attire, Vaughn’s performance is by far the greatest piece of the film. Hacksaw Ridge, followed by Brawl in Cell Block 99 and booming into the great Dragged Across Concrete, Vaughn is on a string of truly superb pieces of cinema. He has come into his own in the past few years, and it’s the performances that put him against typecast that really manage to hone in on how great an actor he is. He blends a cocky machoism expected of the prison lifestyle and system with a genuine care for his pregnant wife and unborn daughter.
Finding himself in prison after showing his moral compass in a drug shootout gone wrong, Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn), a retired boxer and drug runner, finds himself spiralling through a tough as nails prison system that looks to break him and his family. Outside of Vaughn’s great performance, there’s a surprisingly comfortable amount of familiar faces placed into supporting performances that capture a nailbiting and thrilling prison atmosphere in incredible detail. Udo Kier and Don Johnson specifically may be two faces you can pick out throughout the films incredibly tight running time, in part due to their prominence elsewhere. Maybe it’s also due to the fact that these are roles that provide Kier and Johnson with something of relevance in stagnating careers.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 certainly feels like a film with the ability to revitalise careers. It’s especially true for Vince Vaughn, his first enjoyable leading role ever since Dodgeball, a career resurgence under a great director that can craft visually unsettling locations and blend them with a nicely rounded plot that leaves no room for happy endings. Zahler’s direction is incredible, further highlighting his ability to give us a slow burning piece of film that knows when to pick up the pace, and more importantly, knows when to dial it back and have a bit of fun. He’s a great director, if Dragged Across Concrete doesn’t prove that then I’m certain this piece of film will.
A film that revels in its darker tones, inconsistently and brutally inconsiderate violence, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a great piece of film that works wonders for Vince Vaughn. His performance is stellar, a real career best in a film that depends on his output so vividly. One of the better films of the past few years, certainly one that captures a dark and unsettling atmosphere, it’s a movie worth watching, even if it can get humiliatingly disgusting at times.