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Brawl in Cell Block 99
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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."
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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?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.