Brawl in Cell Block 99
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Brawl in Cell Block 99

At the beginning of Brawl in Cell Block 99, Gold the lead character, a thuggish-looking Vince Vaughn as a southerner living somewhere in New York State with a cross tattooed on the back of his shaved head, gets fired from his job as a tow-truck driver and goes home early to find his wife returning from an extramarital dalliance. He instructs her to go inside the house and proceeds to destroy her car with his bare hands. Then he goes inside, his slashed hands covered in blood, and sits down on the couch, where the couple calmly agree that he hasn’t been emotionally present, that they should try to have a child, and that he should start running drugs to make a better life for them and their eventual baby.

It’s a laughable set-up, but it’s also mesmerizing. When Live by Night Brawl in Cell Block 99 premiered at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, it reportedly received a standing ovation. How did a 2-hour-and-15-minute film that delivers as much blood and male aggression as its pulpy title suggests garner such praise from a buttoned-up audience of cineastes?

Simple: Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a thoroughly American original while, simultaneously, a heartfelt nod to a seedy, often-overlooked corner of American film history: the low-budget “grindhouse” cinema of the pre-cineplex era, most notably in the 1970s, at drive-thrus and single-screen movie houses in dingy urban centers, like the pre-Giuliani Before I Wake Times Square. It’s a cinema of cartoonish gore and sharp lines between good and evil, replete with Western tropes of the principled but misunderstood protagonist, the damsel in distress and the fearsome Other, but without the promise that anyone is going to be riding off into the sunset at the end.

Duration: 132 min

Release:

IMDb: 7.1

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Brawl in Cell Block 99
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Brawl in Cell Block 99