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S. Craig Zahler
Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Udo Kier
Writing Credits:
S. Craig Zahler

A former boxer-turned-drug runner lands in a prison battleground after a deal gets deadly.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 132 min.
Price: $29.97
Release Date: 12/26/2017

• “Journey to the Brawl” Featurette
• Beyond Fest Q&A
• Previews


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Brawl in Cell Block 99 [Blu-Ray] (2017)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 18, 2017)

Vince Vaughn as a bald-headed, tattooed prison inmate? I didn’t see that one coming, but that’s what we get from 2017’s Brawl in Cell Block 99.

Bradley Thomas (Vaughn) loses his job so he agrees to move drugs for his pal Gil (Marc Blucas) to better support his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter). Eventually related crimes send Bradley to prison.

Bradley owes a debt to a cartel, and they kidnap Lauren. To save her, Bradley must kill a fellow inmate, a task that places him amidst a mix of challenges.

Based on the film’s title and its promotional art, one might expect Brawl to deliver a 1970s-influenced “drive-in” action flick. Much of the movie feels like a throwback to that era.

Brawl doesn’t become a campy semi-spoof, though, as it plays its material seriously. It avoids the urge to go for the kind of period parody that usually befalls projects of this sort.

I admire that, as it allows Brawl to nod toward its obvious influences without a strong trace of goofiness. The movie gives us the general feel of the 1970s but it turns into a darker, more serious tale than expected.

These facets come as pleasant surprises, but do they make Brawl an actual good movie? Meh – as much as I appreciate some of its elements, it doesn’t turn into a consistently satisfying affair.

One substantial problem stems from its running time. Going into Brawl, I assumed it’d clock in around 95 minutes, whereas it actually fills a mind-numbing 132 minutes. That’s “serious drama” territory, not what you’d expect from a prison-based action flick.

We tend to feel that length, especially during the movie’s nearly interminable first act. Brawl takes a very, very slow path to get where it wants to go, as Bradley doesn’t actually enter prison until around 46 minutes into the story.

That’s about half of the full running time I expected from Brawl. It’s a good 20 minutes more than the movie needs to develop its narrative and characters, and Bradley doesn’t finally reach Cell Block 99 until nearly 90 minutes into the film.

If the movie used the cinematic real estate better, I wouldn’t mind, but it dawdles and drags. On the surface, I should appreciate the fact that Brawl proceeds at its own deliberate pace, but too much of the material seems monotonous and slow for slow’s sake, not because the tale needs to progress in that manner.

With a different title and focus, the sluggishness might matter less, but face it: fans go into a flick like this with a certain expectation for lively action. They don’t get it, as Brawl opts for small-scale battles and a slow boil.

Even if I ignore those preconceived notions, Brawl stalls because it really does run too long. The film simply fails to move along the narrative at an appropriate rate, so many of those minutes feel extraneous.

Ultimately, this turns Brawl into a mixed bag, as it’s a film I respect more than I enjoy. I appreciate the serious and subdued nature of the project, and I like the fact it subverts genre clichés.

However, Brawl remains a tough slog because it moves so damned slowly. This doesn’t result in a particularly impactful payoff, so Brawl becomes an erratic experience.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C

Brawl in Cell Block 99 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with a quality transfer.

For the most part, the film offered positive delineation. A few interiors could be a little on the soft side, but the majority of the flick appeared accurate and concise.

The image suffered from no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and it also lacked edge haloes. Print flaws remained absent.

In terms of palette, Brawl went with a heavy blue tint, though some green overtones appeared in the prison scenes. That restricted variety and vivacity, but the hues seemed fine given their constraints.

Blacks came across as dark and deep, while shadows seemed smooth and concise. The image worked well.

As for the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, it largely followed the subdued nature of the film itself, though it popped to life on occasion. A few action-oriented sequences opened up the spectrum and gave us some involving elements.

Nonetheless, these remained fairly infrequent. Instead, the film generally opted for ambience and stereo presence for the music, factors that made this a restrained soundscape.

Audio quality worked fine, with natural, concise speech. Music sounded full and clear, while effects came across as accurate and tight. Nothing here impressed, but the mix satisfied.

Two extras show up here, and we start with a featurette called Journey to the Brawl. It fills 15 minutes, 10 seconds with comments from writer/director S. Craig Zahler, producers Dallas Sonnier and Jack Heller, and actors Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter and Don Johnson.

“Journey” looks at the project’s development, story/characters, cast and performances, Zahler’s impact on the shoot, sets and locations. The featurette offers a decent array of notes but it lacks much depth.

During a Beyond Fest Q&A, we get a 31-minute, 31-second panel with Vaughn, Carpenter, Zahler, Johnson, Heller, and actor Udo Kier. The Q&A examines cast and performances, story and characters, and various aspects of the production. Like “Journey”, the Q&A delivers a smattering of good notes but it doesn’t dig as deeply as I’d like.

The disc opens with ads for Bone Tomahawk and Dark Was the Night. No trailer for Brawl appears here.

A spin on the prison drama genre, Brawl in Cell Block 99 delivers an erratic affair. While I appreciate aspects of the production, it moves at such a glacial pace that it becomes an endurance test. The Blu-ray provides largely good picture and audio along with a few decent supplements. As much as I respect some of the film’s choices, the end result leaves me a bit cold.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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