Brawl in Cell Block 99 review

Rated: 3.5 / 5

Skip-able Intro

So you remember when I said, “my next review is going to be on a very controversial film that you’ve probably never heard of that you’ll likely only be able to see on a porn site“?  Well, guess I lied.  I’m putting that on hold for a review or two.  Or three.  Lately I’ve been getting bogged down replaying The Witcher (the first one from 2007), which I’ve finished playing and am in the process of reviewing, but that involves finishing editing/uploading the “movie-version” like I did.  That takes a while, especially for that game.  I don’t plan on doing the whole “play and record” thing with the next game I play, because going back and editing footage takes a long time and it becomes frustrating seeing my output suffer as a result.

So I was going to watch and review that “controversial” film, but that got sidelined when I found out about this other movie released recently, still playing in theaters, and is an indie movie.  Well where I live, “movie in theaters” and “indie” don’t go well together, so it’s not playing anywhere near me.  So I opted for the next best thing., rented it there for $7.99.  It was worth it.


The Review

Holy crap, it’s a miracle.  A film starring Vince Vaughn that is actually good.  I usually take a disliking to this guy, something about his aura and personality in his roles just turns me off.  It’s why I was rooting against him in Dodgeball and wished they went with the alternate ending (sure they would’ve lost to the bigger assholes, but at least the bigger assholes were doing something with their lives and were fun and hilarious to watch, especially Ben Stiller [makes me wonder why he doesn’t play the bad guy more often, because that’s when he’s at his most entertaining]).

Plus that would make for a logical continuation, making this movie sort of a sequel to that movie.  Vaughn becomes more down on his luck, and more angry, and doesn’t get the bisexual chick, so he settles for a straight chick played by Jennifer Carpenter (which, in all fairness, is a pretty good deal all things considered).  Hell, I think the movie is also a sequel to Requiem for a Dream, since Vaughn asks her early on if she “fell off the bandwagon” (ie started doing dope again for those of you who think I’m talking about a western/musical flick or something).  Those would be decent films to watch prior to this one, starting with Dodgeball for the “good old fun times,” then Requiem for “everything crashing down and everyone becoming miserable because life sucks”, and then this film to see where it goes from there.


Also kind of fits, considering that Vaughn’s big time Hollywood days seem to be behind him.  That doesn’t seem to be a bad thing here, at least not for us viewers, not sure what that means for him financially.  But in any case, this role is perfect for Vaughn.  Plays a more dead-serious guy, occasionally making a wisecrack to give a peek into his more comedic side.  But make no mistake, he plays a grim character in a grim film with other grim characters and a grim environment.  And grimy prisons.

The film starts with him getting laid off from his job, and follows immediately by learning that his wife was cheating on him.  So you would think the film is going to be a slow downward spiral from there right?  Well, not quite.  They actually manage to rebound for a period of time, both in regards to their finances and their relationship.  But there was only one way Vaughn (I’ll refer to him by his character name from now on: Bradley) could do it, and that’s by resorting to illegal activities: being a drug carrier.  He didn’t want to do it, he’s clearly a guy with a troubled past who wants to do the right thing and live an honest life.  But economic conditions just won’t allow for it.  It’s the only way he can achieve the American dream of having hard work and effort pay off, maintaining a sustainable income, being able to support his wife and household, and help raise a family.  But, of course, it eventually goes wrong and he winds up in prison.  Seriously, has there ever been a decent movie made where someone makes a successful living off the drug trade with no repercussions that messes up their life somehow?  I don’t think so, because that’s a bad message to send, because the film industry needs to keep people honest and off drugs.  Except marijuana, thank God.

In fact, the film even mentions the hypocrisy of such a system.

“I’m aware that the system is harder on guys who distribute drugs than those who commit acts of violence against women and children.”

Life isn’t fair, but people must make due with what they’ve got, and hope they make the right decisions, and consider how much they’re willing to sacrifice in terms of their morals.  And his hard work and effort does have some payoff, with his wife, a house, and a baby on the way.

And her life was hard too.

Because Bradley’s life has been hard and he’s had a hard upbringing, he is a hard man.  And by hard, I mean he has a high pain threshold and can beat the shit out of just about anyone.  An aspect of his past life he wants to leave behind, but eventually finds himself in a state where that isn’t possible.  He’s basically forced to fight in prison.  And it’s this portion of the movie where it becomes a cut above the rest (though the previous section was still good too).  It transitions from drama to action, and the action is very well done.  Some honest to God effort put into the fight choreography and directing.

With each fight scene and each situation Bradley is put into, the situation and the environment and lighting becomes darker and darker.  The chances of him getting free to eventually see his wife and daughter become more and more bleak.  But what he does he does for his wife and daughter, for his family.  To say why, and how it all turns out, would be spoiling things, and I’m not going to do that, because I don’t do that for new movies that I enjoy unless I get neck-deep into some philosophical/thematic/metaphorical/symbolic discussions that are brought up in the film.  This film isn’t that deep in that regard, but there is stuff to talk about below the surface (guess that could be considered a pun in this case).

Because Bradley loves his wife and sacrifices much of his time for her, working jobs to support her, he is willing to do “less than legal” things to make that happen, which he discusses with her (how refreshing, a film where the husband who traffics drugs doesn’t keep it from his loved one).  The reasons Bradley ends up in prison.  He could’ve gotten away when some Mexican thugs decided not to do things his way during a drug pickup, when a shootout with police ensues.  But he doesn’t, because he hates how disrespectful the thugs were to him, the country, and to the police.  The whole thing could’ve been avoided, but that’s not how it turned out.  So Bradley ends up helping the police take them down, though it results in him going to prison.  He keeps his mouth shut due to loyalty, which results in him staying in prison.  When his wife’s life is threatened, he does things he doesn’t want to do to try and keep her safe.  Everything he does in the film is either out of sacrifice for her, or out of sacrifice for his patriotic morals.  And the film doesn’t hide that what he does isn’t exactly the most noble deeds, as he is almost constantly in a bad place whenever he is “working.”  Christ, makes me want to get high just typing all this down; it’s making me depressed.

As for the downsides to this movie, aside from personal tastes in how entertaining I can find a film, there were a couple moments where the film tries to be extra violent, but it just comes off as looking fake.  It’s only for 2 very very brief moments, but they’re there.

Let me show you how badass I am by destroying this mannequin!

Other than that, the film is solid enough, but it’s the fight scenes during the latter half of the movie that truly make it memorable.  Plus there’s a moment where Carpenter gets a hold of a gun and uses it, which put a smile on my face.

All in all, well-made movie.  A bit depressing, yet also having a somewhat pleasant (probably not the right word, but says that’s an appropriate antonym for “depressing,” so…) ending.  Has me eager for the director’s next film, which is titled Dragged Across Concrete and will star both Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson, and is currently in post-production.  Considering how the director doesn’t shy away from violence in his films, at all, and how much Mel Gibson loves putting violence into his films…  oh God, there is hope for the film industry yet.

Because we’re bored with the current state of the film industry.


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