Brawl in Cell Block 99, review

After becoming a drug-runner, former boxer Bradley Thomas gets imprisoned in a maximum security facility to complete a violent task.

Until a few years ago, Vince Vaughan was primarly seen as a comedic actor. Starring in movies such as Wedding Crashers, Dodgeball and Old School, he made his mark on the industry by making people laugh. More recently however he’s been pushing his serious actor status after working on various projects such as Hacksaw Ridge, True Detective and now Brawl in Cell Block 99. Whilst he’s an interesting presence, the film isn’t quite the role Vaughan was probably hoping for. 

He stars as Bradley (not Brad) Thomas, a former boxer who is fired from his job at a garage. Feeling desperate to provide for his wife, he turns to drug dealer Gil to become a driver in order to make a living. When a deal goes wrong, he’s arrested and thrown into prison. During Bradley’s stint, his wife is kidnapped and he’s tasked with killing a fellow inmate in order to get her back. 

The film rests on Vaughan’s fighting skills and that is something which is worth seeing, at first. Besides his anger, he’s relatively emotionless, only breaking down once. A straight talker who tells you what he’s thinking, it seems he’s always on the lookout for trouble, even before prison. Furiously smashing a car with his bare fists, breaking bones of those who get in his way, even becoming aggressive with his own associates, it’s clear that he’s been like this for a while. It’s a heavy weight to carry and Vaughan doesn’t quite manage it. His fighting style becomes quite dull as it’s the same thing over and over again. He’s easily the best thing but when he’s up against several mishandled supporting characters such as the warden pretending to be a sheriff  (he may as well literally have said “I’m the sheriff in this town”) and a few slimey bad guys, it’s not that difficult. The prison guards were pretty funny though, you can imagine the sense of humour you need to work in a place like that.

This is a messy, brutal and fierce film looking to make Vince Vaughan into a bigger brute than he seems. It’s certainly commendable but falls flat due to it’s clunky dialogue, over the top gore and a terrible supporting cast.

2 out of 5.

Keep. It. Reel.

The Breadwinner, review

A girl in Afghanistan pretends to be a boy in order to provide for her family after her father is wrongly imprisoned.

For girls to go outside without a male member of their family in certain parts of the world is unthinkable. They are still considered second class citizens and treated as such. Even when they are with a member of their own family, it is still looked down upon. This is the premise of The Breadwinner, an animated film by Nora Twomey who is directing her first solo feature. Taking place in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, it shows the harsh conditions people have to endure in order to live.

Creating the initially atmosphere, The Breadwinner is a beautiful looking film, with stunning landscapes and scenes along with sounds to accompany them. The oppressing environment girls are living in is also established quickly with the girl, Parvana (Saara Chaudry) who is selling items with her father at the local market. During an altercation with three men, her father is told she should not have left the house and both are almost beaten for doing so. As things escalate, her father is hauled off to prison, leaving the family with little money and food. Shortly after she is being chased away from attempting to go shopping on her own, which forces Parvana to disguise herself as a boy to provide for her family. Living with her sick mother, older sister and younger brother, there are a lot of mouths to feed, Parvana puts pressure on herself to be the breadwinner. 

Parvana is a strong willed girl who uses her method of storytelling as her own form of escapism and dealing with harrowing events from her past. The flashes into her story about a boy trying to defeat an evil spirit are as equally gorgeous as the rest of the film, looking as if it’s been cut out from paper. These dream like images pushes it’s plot forward by becoming more erratic as does their situation at home. 

During the course of the movie, we are constantly reminded of the place women have in this particular society. They are beaten for no reason, told not to work, that men are always in charge, that they should be staying at home and look after the men in their family and do nothing else. It’s with this that the director shows what our protagonist is made of, defying what the social convention is whilst hiding who she is. 

The beauty of the animation is matched by the emotional weight within it’s characters. The torture and torment they all suffer on different levels hits the perfect mark in each scene. 

4 out of 5.

Keep. It. Reel.