DVD: Brawl In Cell Block 99

STUDIO: Image | DIRECTOR: S. Craig Zahler | CAST: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Marc Blucas, Fred Melamed, Tom Guiry
RELEASE DATE: Dec. 26, 2017 | PRICE: DVD $11.30, Blu-ray/DVD Combo $14.96
BONUSES: featurette, Beyond Fest Q&A
SPECS: NR | 132 min. | Crime action drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall


It’s not every day a 132-minute “B” movie fast-passed to On Demand and disc after a very brief theatrical run receives a whopping 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But Brawl in Cell Block 99 is that rarity: a crafty prison yarn that delivers the goods beyond even the most devout action movie maven’s expectations.

Perhaps admirers of writer-director S. Craig Zahler’s previous outing, the 2015 Kurt Russell horror sagebrush saga Bone Tomahawk, are not so surprised considering that film has achieved cult status in a very short time.

In Brawl, Vince Vaughn (The Dilemma), bald and sporting a cross tattoo stretched across the back of his head, plays a recently fired auto mechanic who, after discovering his spouse (Jennifer Carpenter, TV’s Dexter) is pregnant, takes a job with an old friend delivering drugs. When one deal goes terribly wrong, Vaughn ends up in prison and eventually learns that his wife has been kidnapped. The only way to save her and their unborn child appears to be to make a deal with a mob fixer and kill a rival drug kingpin in a maximum security prison.

There’s not a whole lot that’s novel here, but Zahler’s approach certainly is. He takes his time building the plot and adding shades to Vaughn’s ruffian character, then he lets him loose in a series of manoa-mano confrontations that are among the most brutal seen on the screen in recent memory. Vaughn is tasked with battling his way from one prison to another, squaring off against a rogues gallery of fellow convicts, corrupt prison guards and a sadomasochistic warden (Don Johnson, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy) until he comes face-to-face with his target.

The deliberate drama and bursts of electrifying, splatter film-level mayhem make Brawl in Cell Block 99 an odd mix that somehow works terrifically. Add expertly choreographed action sequences, Vaughn’s no-nonsense turn as the put-upon hero, Johnson’s cigarillo-smoking sleazebag prison supervisor and Zahler’s in-your-face approach and you have a pumped-up drive-in movie that clicks on all cylinders. It will likely be a keeper for DVD and Blu-ray customers eager to check this out—this Brawl’s much-earned fierce reputation definitely precedes it.

Buy or Rent Brawl In Cell Block 99

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.