When Vince Vaughn was cast for the second season of the HBO series True Detective, it was seen as a bold gamble for a man typecast to the comedy genre. While the critical reception of that series fell comfortably short of the original run, there was an acknowledgement that there was more to Vaughn that meets the eye.
Now critics are coming to terms with a more rounded performer as Brawl in Cell Block 99 breaks down all preconceptions about his chops as an actor. Directed by Bone Tomahawk's S. Craig Zahler, this is a 132-minute installment that pushes the boundaries on violence and brutality.
An 80s/90s Throwback That Plunges VV Into The Abyss
Brian Gallagher at MovieWeb was desperate to see a picture that went beyond basic formulas and traditional styles. On that count, it delivered.
"If you've been craving an old-school grindhouse throwback, you simply cannot miss Brawl in Cell Block 99," he says. "I was lucky enough to see this with a sold out crowd as the opening night film of Beyond Fest in Los Angeles last weekend, and it was most certainly a vocal audience that was most appreciative of this brutal film that seems to also pay homage to Steven Seagal and his arm-breaking films from the 1980s and 1990s like Above the Law."
Offering 3/4 stars for Rolling Stone, critic David Fear argues this is a transformative picture for Hollywood who will move beyond seeing Vaughn as that loveable loon pictured on Swingers and Wedding Crashers.
"The role he plays in this ultra-violent, nihilistic slab of a prison flick is enough to wipe the past-persona slate clean. If that misbegotten sophomore season of True Detective gave us anything, it was the notion that Vaughn's mid-to-late-career move would be to edge toward darkness. He's officially made good on that promise. Full-on into-the-abyss mode fits him well."
Great Supporting Cast as Slow Burn Eventually Boils Over
New York Times scribe Jeannette Catsoulis believes this is Vaughn growing into his own manic persona, ably supported by other antagonists who push him to his limits.
"The title is pure grindhouse, but Brawl in Cell Block 99 reaches some distance beyond simple prison-movie exploitation," she begins. "The role must have been punishing, but, perhaps for the first time, Mr. Vaughn seems comfortable in his towering body. Bradley isn’t flyweight-nimble, he’s a battering ram, and the director wisely surrounds him with wickedly agile supporting players. Both Don Johnson and the great Udo Kier are memorably repulsive as a sadistic warden and a slimy go-between, and Fred Melamed is chillingly hilarious as a persnickety prison intake officer."
AV Club's Mike D'Angelo admits this title is something of a slow burn.
"Eventually, this methodical nightmare journey does serve up extreme violence that sorta, kinda qualifies as a brawl. It takes an hour and a half for the film to reach cell block 99, though, and a good 45 minutes elapse before its protagonist even goes to prison."
But when the action hits though, it does not miss the mark and is worth every second.
"Every scene has verve and wit and a clear purpose, getting Bradley closer to his destination and destiny—it’s just a more roundabout path than this sort of movie usually takes... The film’s true target audience, though, is patient connoisseurs of highbrow-lowbrow combo platters who are eager to watch a modern Lee Marvin navigate a slow-motion descent into hell. Settle in and luxuriate."
Brawl in Cell Block 99 opens across the US this week on Friday October 6.