Brawl In Cell Block 99 — 10 Movies in 10 Days: TIFF 2017 Review

The Mob’s Reel has been gracious enough to host Mobster, Curtis Morgan's TIFF 2017 review. As an actor and film buff, Curtis braved this years red carpet to bring you spoiler-free reviews on the 10 films he saw at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.


I didn’t know what to expect from this movie.  I hadn’t see the director’s previous film, Bone Tomahawk, but I have been told it’s a great film, just very violent and gruesome.  As an eight year veteran of TIFF’s Midnight Madness programming, I can take whatever gruesome visuals any twisted director can throw at me, as long as it isn’t the point of the film.  S. Craig Zahler uses brutal violence craftily and sparingly as exclamation points to well crafted ideas.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a character piece with some cliched characters, but thankfully, those aren’t the main ones.  Vince Vaughn slowly exhales into every scene.  You’ve never scene Vince like this.  His physical transformation for the role makes it more believable.  They could’ve got a younger, buffer, shinier action star to play this role, but then it wouldn’t have been as authentic.  The skilled and brutal fighting that Vince eventually displays would’ve been expected from anyone else.  Vince masterfully portrays an ex-boxer who has had a rough turn in life while trying to live legitimately.  With his girlfriend’s blessing, he decides to return to his criminal ways as a driver for a local drug-runner.  Things were going pretty good for awhile.  Don’t misread the synopsis though, Vince’s Bradley Thomas is by no means a stupid criminal.  He is an intelligent, super-careful survivalist, who meticulously works hard to avoid putting himself or his family at risk.  After years of carefulness, it is one false move by over-eager business partners that land him in increasingly unfortunate circumstances.  As his freedoms become more limited, he has to work harder to think and fight his way to redemption and save the ones he loves.

This movie is a slow burn towards an inevitable stick of dynamite in a dark room.  You hear the hissing of the fuse,  you know there’s gonna be trouble when it reaches the stick, but no matter what, you can’t stop it.  That’s what this movie feels like.  And it’s an amazing ride.  The choreography of the fight scenes throughout are better than most of the best MMA fights you’ve scene.  Zahler clearly has a bone breaking fetish as there are several in the movie, and there are very gruesome scenes, so be prepared.  The great thing about this film is the story and the performances that fill it with substance.  The stylized world that Zahler creates and the character the Vince Vaughan portrays is what stayed with me days after I saw it (more so than any other TIFF film I saw this year), not the violence.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 gets 4/5 stars.

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