Since the disastrous (and retroactively hilarious) season 2 of True Detective I have been rooting for the Vince Vaughnaissance. Much like the McConaissance in season 1 of the show it was clear Vaughn was going for a similar career bump. It didn’t work unfortunately as season 2 was saddled with myriad of problems – many of which fell at the screenwriter’s feet who treated Vaughn’s character like a bizarre mix of Tony Soprano, Ari Gold and Vaughn in swingers. Since then, he has been in a movie called Term Life (holy shit look at his hair on the poster!!) and as Drill Sergeant Howell in the Mel Gibson joint (ugh) Hacksaw Ridge.
Needless to say, Vaughn the actor probably didn’t have a lot of options. Which is why it’s so surprising to see him appear in the new S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk) prison film Brawl in Cell Block 99. This is a complete 180 from the persona he has crafted over the career only briefly tapping into the soft, cuddly man we’ve all come to love. Still Vaughn’s easy confidence as inmate and former boxer Bradley Thomas works very well here as he punches, breaks arms and generally maims his way through club fed.
This is pulp filmmaking of the highest order. Zahler brings influences from Death Wish to the grindhouse pictures of the 1970’s to craft a slow burn about an economy that sends people to the edge, making decisions for their family that seem to be a last resort. Vaughn is a menacing presence as well, enacting violence on fellow convicts that is so filled with viscera and gore I audibly laughed near the end. Brawl in Cell Block 99 is small but very effecting, if you can stomach it and loudly proclaims the TRUE beginning of the Vaughnaissance.