Bone Tomahawk director S. Craig Zahler's latest film, a violent, visceral crime thriller with stilted dialogue and squashed skulls, feels like Drive in a jail, but doubles as a look at the American Dream and the ways it lets people down.
Former funny man Vince Vaughn channels a level of darkness on par with his turn in True Detective in the film. This time, he plays Bradley Thomas, a Southerner who returns to a life of drug running after he loses his job and learns about an affair his wife had following the death of their daughter.
Flash forward a year and a half and the pair is ready to welcome a new child — that is, until a drug pickup goes wrong and he's thrown into the prison system. To save his wife and unborn daughter from the criminals he owes money to, Bradley must fight his way from a medium to maximum-security jail and kill a prisoner being held at its highest level. And once there, he realizes not everything is as it seems.
Slow as molasses, Brawl in Cell Block 99 — a pulpy beat 'em up with overtly poetic dialogue and political undertones — is a bit of an outlier at this year's TIFF. It's a jarring watch, with fight scenes that sound like old school kung fu flicks and a performance from Vaughn that's as cold as ice. But it's also one of this year's more entertaining action movies, thanks to its high level of ass-kickery and the ways it toys with genre tropes.
In the film's first scene, a can of Miller Lite can be seen being crushed by an old sports car. It's a good visual metaphor for what transpires: Brawl in Cell Block 99 isn't the classiest, but it does the trick.