Brawl in Cell Block 99

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Poster Image
Hideous, graphic violence in prison horror story.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 121 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

There's honor among thieves. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. "You should aim high with your wishes."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bradley is a large, powerful, and stoical man who sometimes takes his anger out on inanimate objects, but seems gentle with friends and wife. He never complains. He's bright and wise-cracking, but also clever and significantly free of self-pity. A prison warden is creepy, sadistic, and corrupt. Criminals are violent and dishonest.


A man kills people by stomping on their skulls. After such an attack, he turns a man over and what's left of the victim's flattened, bloody face is shown. He stomps another man's head in and kicks it repeatedly until the head is severed from the body. The head is seen rolling away. He notes that he hopes the head continues to live on for a while after the severing for maximum suffering. A stun belt is locked onto a prisoner, delivering painful electric jolts. The prisoner is thrown into a dingy cell, the floor of which is covered with broken glass. He's stunned and falls to the glass-strewn ground in pain, cutting his hands and knees. A prisoner beats several guards, snapping their limbs with loud, nearly-comic crunches. An angry man punches and damages a car with his fists. Police interrupt a drug deal and a deadly shootout ensues. A pregnant woman is shot with poisoned darts to sedate her, then kidnapped and bound. The kidnapper threatens to remove her unborn fetus's limbs. A criminal is shot by a warden. A prisoner is subjected to a "full-cavity inspection" by a gloved guard.


A man learns his wife has had an affair and that revelation leads them to recommit to their marriage. A workplace displays a poster of a woman in a skimpy bikini pouring a liquid down her chest. A prostitute seems to offer Bradley sex in exchange for a sample of his drugs. A man says that a woman has "a nice set."


"F--k," "s--t," "gringo," "blanco," "f---got," the "N" word, "ass," and "piss."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Bradley is a drug runner, dealing in heroin, meth, and other illegal substances.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a crime-prison drama written and directed by someone who has been called by some a "master of gore." Since the subject matter suggests a realist approach, viewers could well be deeply affected by the film's extreme violence. But by the halfway point, the intensity and sheer volume of blood and guts, shootings, beatings, and loudly-crushed skulls (more than one!), become both oppressive and nearly comical, as if the plot was a flimsy device for gratuitous, choreographed-violence delivery. Unlike horror movies, where implausible plots lessen the impact of their violence, here the impact is exaggerated by the realist subject matter. This is significant as it relates to appropriateness for teens. Drug dealers are the main characters. Expect to hear "f--k," "s--t," the "N" word," and "piss."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9-year-old Written byBobby G. January 3, 2020

Mature for sure

Great film with disturbing content and graphic violence. A man breaks another man’s arm; the bone is seen sticking out. There are also multiple onscreen head st... Continue reading
Adult Written bypuka zam October 20, 2019


I think this movie shows a simple character with rough determination, and plenty of wit, a man willing to make ends meet and keep in stable condition doing so,... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byClorox bleach April 23, 2021

Brawl in cell block 99

I thought this movie was good. What made me want to watch this if that this was from the director of bone tomahawk. Also Vince Vaughn was in it. The violence in... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bydomromano19 March 21, 2021

If they enjoy violent slow burns and gritty crime they’ll enjoy it

There are some quite violent fight scenes. The main protagonist has to turn very violent to survive, but he is a genuinely moral man, a great role model. There... Continue reading

What's the story?

In BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 a knockabout, odd-jobber named Bradley (Vince Vaughn) has finally settled into a happy home life, making a nice living as a drug-runner, when a deal with a new supplier named Eliezar (Dion Mucciacito) goes bad. Caught by the police and honorably refusing to turn on his boss, Gil (Marc Blucas), he admits his wrong and leaves his pregnant wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter) to spend seven years in a minimum-security prison. Almost immediately, he's informed by a visitor that his wife has been kidnapped by Eliezar's minions. Eliezar claims Bradley's poor performance cost him millions and, to make up for it, demands Bradley somehow get himself transferred to a maximum-security prison called Redleaf, where he must kill an enemy housed in Cell Block 99. If he doesn't comply, an "abortionist" will remove the limbs of the fetus still inside Lauren's womb and those limbs will be sent to Bradley in jail. Lickety-split, Bradley violently attacks several guards and, hocus pocus, he is transferred to Redleaf in a miraculous flash. There the warden (Don Johnson) escorts him to a filthy chamber with a non-working toilet filled with excrement. Oops, wrong cell block. To get to the worst of the worst -- 99 -- Bradley must maul more guards, which he achieves with astonishing ease. Once in 99, the darkly medieval sector of the facility, he finds that no such enemy is incarcerated but that he's been set up by Eliezar, a prisoner there, and the warden. Ultimately, Bradley bludgeons his way to a kind of justice, saving his wife and receiving his own comeuppance.

Is it any good?

At best, the tone of Brawl in Cell Block 99, with its unrelenting brutality and over-the-top violence, is confusing. The laughably-choreographed fake fight scenes, implausible plot turns, and unrelenting violence suggest that director-writer S. Craig Zahler (he also made Dragged Across Concrete and the cannibal-horror-Western Bone Tomahawk) is one odd dude. But there's no doubt that he's also a capable filmmaker. While the movie goes far off the rails plot-wise in its final 45-minutes -- presenting Bradley as a nearly super-human physical wrecking ball -- the film is sometimes a strangely-absorbing mishmash of goodness and badness. Vaughn's shaved head, featuring a cross tattoo, matches his grim, unflinching facial expression. In any case, this is not for the faint-hearted. Only true worshippers of violent fare will be able to watch scenes that verge on the horror genre.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how violence is used in the movie. Many of the hand-to-hand fight scenes are clumsily choreographed. Do you think the filmmakers did this on purpose to make the violence less affecting, or do you think they just did a bad job of creating plausible fights?

  • Bradley seems like a man who is both loyal and gentle with his wife, but more than willing to use violence when he thinks it will be useful. How do these traits make him come across?

  • How do you think the movie addresses fairness in life? How is Bradley treated unfairly? How is he treated fairly?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love horror

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