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If you’re looking at that gift card your aunt gave you this holiday season and can’t decide what to pick up, one film worth adding to your collection is S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99, hitting DVD, Blu-ray and 4K the day after Christmas. This tightly scripted thriller, heavy on the violence, brings a fresh take on prison films of yore, delivering an endlessly entertaining piece of badass cinema, which I consider to be one of the year’s best.
Vince Vaughn stars as Bradley, a recently unemployed tow truck driver who decides to get into the drug running business with his friend, only to have a job go south 18 months later. Bradley is sentenced to seven years in prison, but to make matters worse, the cartel that lost out on their drugs has now kidnapped his wife and is threatening to do some absolutely horrid things to her and her unborn child if he doesn’t comply and kill an inmate at another prison. Now Bradley must do everything he can to get thrown into the maximum security facility where this other prisoner is, even if it means hurting some innocent people.
It’s not often that Vince Vaughn takes on a dramatic role, and it’s even more of a rarity to see him in something like this — heavy on the action and fisticuffs. But as soon as one witnesses an early scene involving Vaughn destroying a car with his bare hands à la Street Fighter 2, it’s evident that he’s more than up for the task.
Like Zahler’s previous film, Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a wonderful genre mashup, taking a cue from Tarantino by drawing inspiration from exploitation films of the ’70s and incorporating clever dialogue and unique characters. It has a throwback vibe but carries with it a fresh coat of paint that helps it to avoid feeling derivative.
RLJE and Image Entertainment have released Brawl in two versions — a DVD + Blu-Ray combo pack and a Blu-Ray + 4K Ultra HD pack, which has a way better cover. For this review I watched the standard Blu-ray Disc from the 4K pack and found the picture quality to be a bit lacking, but I recall the same level of clarity in my theater viewing experience months ago. The picture is constantly muddy and washed out, and while it certainly doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the film, don’t expect this to be one of the best-looking films in your collection.
The special features on the disc are also a bit meh, only containing a poorly edited making-of featurette and a Q&A panel from its screening at Beyond Fest. If your decision about picking this up in digital or physical form hinges on the features, you may want to go the digital route.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 remains one of my favorites of 2017, and though the Blu-Ray release, like the film itself, is a bit rough around the edges, it’s still worth a look, if only for the quality of the film itself.