2020 was a funny old time to throw this site together. On the one hand I had the time to actually write! But, with the film and TV industry coming to something of a halt, it felt like I couldn’t put that time to proper use as new releases were somewhat sporadic. Sure, there were a few seasonal things to work on (see 31 Days Of Horror),however for the most part I was lost without my near-weekly cinema trips to catch the latest releases on the big screen.
And then this idea popped into my head – 100 Films Recommended By Film Twitter. I put the word out to film friends on the wider internet to find out what films they love. I called, and they answered.
To kick things off, I’m diving into Brawl In Cell Block 99
It was thrown into the ring by Andy Kubica, who had this to say about the film:
“Having just watched Bone Tomahawk (you must watch it) and learning writer/director S. Craig Zahler also helmed this film, I was even more anxious to see.
After Bradley (Vince Vaughn) loses his job, he is forced into a life as a drug runner. His big score goes wrong, he makes some tough decisions and ends up in prison. He is then manipulated and has to make even more intense decisions in order to make events happen in his favor.
Vaughn is believable as a tough, abrasive husband trying to save his family. His morality is questionable and you can’t decide whether to root for him or hate him. Don Johnson is also a standout as the warden.
I found it fascinating and exhilarating at the same time. Some of the fight scenes are maybe a little excessively violent, but that is the nature of prison life I imagine.
Zahler is slowly making a name for himself with these two films. He hasn’t reached Tarantino status quite yet, but he is off to a good start.”
Andy and myself are pretty much on the same page when it comes to this film
Vince Vaughn is phenomenal as Bradley. He is a far cry from his role in Wedding Crashers which I had watched a few days before this. You might say that the slight contrast between the two roles was more apparent as a result.
What struck me about Vaughn’s character was how he was constructed through both the writing and the performance that brought him to life. He wasn’t a good guy, but you’d be hard pushed to call him bad either. Part of me wants to call him a victim of circumstance, but that doesn’t really fit because he had a very can-do attitude about the position he was in. He had a bad habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, often with the wrong people. Ultimately that was where things went pear-shaped for him, but he cracked on with what had to be done.
The fascinating thing about Bradley is that he is probably the most brutal protagonist that Zahler has created, however because of how much of an everyman he is, he is also the most likeable central character in any of his films. It takes all kinds, I suppose…
Zahler’s knack for writing dialogue truly shines here
The talent he has for creating exchanges between his characters has been clear since his first feature. Now that I’m up to date with his filmography, I can safely say that the man is three for three. Whether it’s time-killing small-talk, creative sayings unique to a particular character, or just straight-up menacing dialogue, Zahler can do it all. A line that stood out to me was, “South of OK, north of cancer”. This was Bradley’s stock response whenever anyone asked him how he was doing. It perfectly fitted his character, and just about summed up the tone of the whole film as well. Simply sublime.
Good things come to those who wait
A word of warning to those thinking of watching Brawl In Cell Block 99 who haven’t seen Zahler’s other films – be patient. This is a director who specialises in slow burns. He takes his time layering things up before the final act, and then things get cranked up to eleven. If you sit with it, you are treated to the gentler aspects like the cinematography, the performances and the well-crafted dialogue before he completely lets loose. However, if you’re someone who favours the dessert part of a 3-course meal, his films might fall a little flat for you.
Even if this is the case, I would urge you to stick with them for another viewing. These films hold a lot of rewatch value. Once you’re familiar with the guy’s style, you have half a chance of preparing yourself for the final act of his films, meaning that when it comes to a second or third viewing, the shock doesn’t tend to override everything else quite as much as it does the first time around.
That being said, Brawl In Cell Block 99 had the most restraint of all of Zahler’s films when it came to the anticipated final act. It wasn’t as unrelenting of those belonging to his other films. However, it made up for that with the creative kills that Bradley undertook. Even knowing that this would be the case, nothing can really prepare you for what Zahler is capable of putting out there. He doesn’t seem to have reached his limit yet, let’s put it that way.
Brawl In Cell Block 99 really is worth a watch
Although it’s probably my third favourite of Zahler’s films, that shouldn’t be seen as a red flag. Something had to come last, and I’m just not quite as familiar with this as his other works. It’s definitely one for Vince Vaughn fans as this is a side of him not on display in every film. He really is on top form as Bradley! Aside from all of that, it’s just a bit different. Zahler is never afraid to take risks, and I think he makes a decent habit of sticking the landing.