Jaw meet floor.
Thing is, it has long quiet stretches too, but that only makes the brutality hit home.
And Vince Vaughn like I would never have dreamed.
And Don Johnson, chewing up cigars and scenery.
I've kind of hated Vince Vaughn in the past because ... well, he often plays a sort of jerky character that rubs me the wrong way - rubs me like steel wool on my scrotum, in fact. But in his role as Bradley Thomas, skinhead drug courier with a moral compass that seems to point somewhere north of "thou shalt not" but south of how half those lines finish, he is fully redeemed in my book. I find myself wondering why he even took this role when Silly Swinging Christmas Wedding Crashers III was probably available to him.
I also kind of hated Don Johnson during his Miami Vice days, and maybe even more for his album than for the fashion choices he foisted on my generation. He's been redeemed in my book since at least Django Unchained and Cold in July and I'd even half-heartedly throw Tin Cup in there too.
The direction of this film. Yes, the slow scenes vs. the action. S. Craig Zahler did this in his terrific Bone Tomahawk too. But what caught my eye is the fight scenes. They tend to be long takes with full body shots. None of the hyperkinetic editing where the director only had to film a fist here, an unidentifiable blur in motion there. It really looks for all the world like these guys are fighting, like limbs are being broken, like skulls are being crushed.
I also loved the way a certain shoot-out was filmed. Zahler seems to actually be aware of the way most shoot-outs really occur - at super close range. There's a Grand Theft Auto aspect to it - one of the bad guys even blows up a cop car with a grenade - but even this and the cop-bad guy chatter is surprisingly real, going down fast and ugly, with some excellent sound editing too as Vaughn's character moves closer to, than farther away from, then back toward the action.
I also loved the lighting and the contrast between the two prisons Vaughn experiences, the way his entry into the first prison is told in slow detail to highlight the hell of the second.
And, thirdly, I was simply wowed by the script, how bad things got for Bradley and how quickly it all happens - the crux of the plot involves the kidnapping of Bradley's pregnant wife. Early on, Bradley is counting down the days until the projected birth. The cliche would have the action happen close to the birth, but the countdown doesn't get to progress far at all.
I went in expecting something more in the vein of a Planet Terror send-up, but Zahler's use of language and grindhouse tropes doesn't call attention to itself the way Tarantino's or Rodriguez's might. Neither Bradley nor the thugs he runs with are men of grand soliloquies, and rightly so and, as I indicated above, while there would be plenty of opportunities for the camera to dazzle, it's more about what the camera captures than how.
So, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is not a fun movie in the way something more stylized like Pulp Fiction might be - the violence here is more in your face, definitely not for the faint of heart - but the almost quiet craft on display is something we rarely see in films that are consciously set in an otherwise over-the-top B-movie universe.