Tag Archives: Bone Tomahawk

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Film Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Synopsis: Following a botched drug deal, former mechanic and boxer turned drug runner Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn) lands in jail and must fight to survive. Brawl in Cell Block 99 misdirects expectations until erupting into a hyper violent tale akin to 1970’s exploitation films seared by a John Carpenter-esque synth score. After watching the film, I never want to be in a confined space near Vince Vaughn.

Director S.Craig Zahler has sprinkled the grit of Westerns onto New York City. Absent are the desert plains and cannibals of Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, but the brooding and savagery remain. Litter, the modern day tumbleweed, rustles across the street in an early scene as Bradley waits to drive home when two gang bangers stop alongside him. The two sides silently weigh each other up with the focus of duellists as silence fills the inner-city ghost town.


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Bradley squares up

Bradley is an old gunslinger reincarnated. He quietly lives as a mechanic yet is cloaked in an enigmatic past and bristles with restrained violence, symbolised by the distinguishing tattooed crucifix atop his head. Zahler’s use of perspective causes Vince Vaughn’s physicality to fill every scene. Bradley keeps a facade of control but is most interesting when tottering between calm and his inner rage such as angrily throwing his former locker keys. I was unable to consistently watch True Detective’s second season, but in glimpsed snippets Vince Vaughn’s character of mobster Frank Seymon was arresting. The season and Vaughn were not well praised, but in Brawl in Cell Block 99 Vaughn proves that he can embody an antihero. Vaughn channels into Bradley a quiet seriousness dovetailed by the deadpan delivery I loved in Dodgeball. The mix adds an intense urge to cower and laugh in Bradley’s presence, especially in one scene where he calmly commands another prisoner to; ‘ talk proper, or get raped’. To tread such a role and remain engaging is not a second chance for Vaughn, but a public reminder of his acting prowess. Physically, Vaughn fits the role of Bradley. His stature imposes on the screen like Richard Kiel’s Jaws in James Bond. Unlike most actors where disbelief in what they have done settles in after the film, I willingly accept that Vince Vaughn can break another’s limbs with the effort most men place in opening unyielding jars.

Jennifer Carpenter, of Dexter and White Chicks fame, excels as Lauren, Bradley’s wife. Carpenter has always been lithe but in Brawl in Cell Block 99 she is painfully thin, with sinew bunching at her shoulders. Like Vaughn, Carpenter’s physicality attests to her character, her struggle overcoming the loss of their child and remaining sober. Lauren can be vulnerable but matches Bradley’s strength with a toughness which flares in the film.

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The rift between Bradley and Lauren

The relationship between Bradley and Lauren is told through the space of a scene. The initial rift between them is literally present as the visible gap between the two characters in their living room. This emptiness returned when Lauren, alone in their bedroom, clearly fears for Bradley’s safety. For a film mainly staged in the cramped confines of prison, Brawl in Cell Block 99 uses space to great effect. Wide camera angles accentuate Bradley’s menacing build and strength, while the camera switches focus from intimate close ups to distant shots mirroring Bradley’s emotional state. The technique is simple and effective. When Bradley finally arrives in cell block 99, the camera retreats towards the ceiling. Taking on a bird’s eye view, the camera observes Bradley now powerless and small in the darkened cell.


Bradley isolated

Once Bradley is incarcerated his reality warps into a brutal exploitation film. Brief segments of the outside world are divorced from Bradley’s new reality, hued by a glacial blue filter. Red Leaf’s prison guards clad in jet black uniforms, lead by surly Warden Tuggs (Don Johnson), ape the military police in Escape From New York March accompanied by a pulsating electronic score. A collection of old stone passageways, inhuman cells and forbidden torture devices, Red Leaf is a monster’s lair rather than a prison. Brawl in Cell Block 99 takes on the tone of a horror film upon arrival to Red Leaf. Time in Red Leaf becomes marked by the humming of caged bulbs while both prisoner and guard become increasingly violent.  Despite its delightful twists Brawl in Cell Block 99 feels real thanks to a great plot by S.Craig Zahler and even better casting. The minor roles, especially Fred Melamed as eloquently passive aggressive requisitions officer Mr. Irving, enliven Brawl in Cell Block 99, adding both humanity and comedy to a brutal tale.

Bradley guards

Bradley meets the guards of Red Leaf

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a masterful prison story flitting between the grind house tropes of horror, violence and revenge with consistent performances. Tragically for the film’s setting, Brawl in Cell Block 99 has been locked away. Receiving no presence in U.K. cinemas despite rave reviews at the Venice film festival, the film is exiled to the iTunes video store. The price to rent Brawl in Cell Block 99 was reasonable. I did enjoy being able to repeat my viewing over the 48 hour activation period and analyse scenes. However as I said in my Christopher Nolan and Netflix piece here, digital release will unlikely match the public attention cinematic distribution brings. After all, adverts online are useful but nothing matches a physical poster on the street, or a sign at the cinema. In the wake of a summer box office draught, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is the type of film that needs to be shown in cinemas right now.

By Saul Shimmin

P.S: R&B band the O’Jays performed an excellent song for Brawl in Cell Block 99, composed by the polymath himself S.Craig Zahler. The song can be listened to here.

For the trailer, see below:



Trailer Roundup: September

Following this summer’s box office slump, here a few films to look forward to!


Release date: Currently travelling between film festivals, no set date for the cinema release

The Work

Release date:  Out now in the U.K.

Arriving from nowhere, a trailer for The Work suddenly appeared two weeks ago at my local independent cinema and fortunately it is available in the U.K since Friday 8 September.

Focusing upon a group therapy session over four days between Folsom Prison inmates and outsiders, the trailer alone bristles with intensity and is definitely not a documentary to miss. Hopefully there will be more throat signing in the actual film, which I have reviewed here.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Release date: 6 October 2017 in the U.S.

Directed and written by S. Craig Zahler who directed Bone Tomahawk which Hagood reviewed and enjoyed here. 

Vince Vaughn made a good anti-hero in the glimpses I caught of HBO’s True Detective‘s second season. Vaughn’s new role in Brawl in Cell Block 99 as boxer-turned-drug dealer Bradley Thomas follows that anti-hero thread. Unlike True Detective, Zahler has really used Vaughn’s natural physicality. Ignoring the bald head and crucifix tattoo combo Vaughn is rocking, he is naturally quite a scary guy, especially when practising his boxing on an innocent Suburu as shown in the trailer.

I cannot wait to see this film, in part due to how well the music choice fits the trailer, which is always a good sign.

Shot Caller

Release date: 18 August 2017 in the U.S. (out now)

There is definitely an unintentional prison theme going on in this article.

Nikoloaj Coster-Waldau plays Jacob Harlon, a respectable family man, who after a car accident, winds up in a maximum security prison where he slowly and tragically becomes ensconced in prison life. Alongside Nikolaj is Lake Bell, Jon Bernthal, recently in Baby Driverand Jeffrey Donovan.

For a film with a respectable cast, Shot Caller has received almost nought attention from the media and little exposure in cinemas. Unfortunately, Shot Caller is not the only film this year that has been forgotten by the film industry as I stated in my piece about Netflix here.

The main star is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known for his role as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones. Alongside Netflix original Small Crimes in which Nikolaj plays a Jamie-esque character minus the incest, there seems to be a trickling current to propel the actor as a veritable film star. Shot Caller might not get Nikolaj public recognition, but it will hopefully get filmmakers interested in him.

Lady Bird

Release Date: November 10

What’s a trailer round up without an A24 film? Released a week ago, this trailer shows what appears to be a semi-light hearted coming of age movie in a similar vein to last year’s Age of Seventeen. The film stars Brooklyn and Hana actress Saoirse Ronan and Manchester By The Sea standout, Lucas Hedges.

Here at Title Roll, we’re huge fans of A24’s mission and work to bring smaller, indie films to the large screen. While sometimes coming of age films fall flat, Lady Bird seems to have struck a nice quirky tone with its main character, “Lady Bird” who is a strong willed, Catholic high schooler. She wants to rebel against everyone including her similarly stubborn mother (Laura Metcalf) and it is in such familial struggles where often great movies are separated from mediocre films.

We shall see if first time director Greta Gerwig (who also wrote the script) can strike this delicate balance between angsty (but sometimes funny) teenager outbursts and serious, family drama. We’re hopeful she will.

The Valley of Shadows

Release date: 20 October 2017 in Norway, elsewhere not confirmed

I thought I should add this as a final choice. The beautifully stark Norweigan background which becomes hauntingly ethereal as the trailer unfolds makes the film feel like a cross between Pan’s Labyrinth and Let The Right One In .

The plot revolves around Alask, a young boy living in a rural Norweigan town who believes a werewolf is stalking the land. While The Valley of Shadows may not be released in the Anglophone world anytime soon, it is one to look out for.

By Saul Shimmin and Hagood Grantham

Bone Tomahawk

Movie Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, Matthew Fox, & David Arquette.

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Synopsis: A stranger wanders into a small, western town. His suspicious actions draw the attention of  the town sheriff, Hunt (Kurt Russell), who wounds the man when he tries to run away from an interrogation. That night, Samantha (Lili Simmons), the town’s stand-in doctor, tends to the man’s injury at the jail as Hunt’s deputy stands guard. The next morning, a townsman alerts Hunt that savages kidnapped Samantha, the deputy, and the stranger, which prompts a rescue mission. A four-man search party forms and they set-out after the savages. A lot of fun, death, and fear ensues.

I realize my synopsis might make Bone Tomahawk sound like a rip-off of John Wayne’s 1956 classic, The Searchers, but trusts me, Bone Tomahawk surpasses its predecessor. I think my favorite part of the film is its realness. The movie’s actors skillfully embody the frailty of human life on the west. When the savages attack the town, none of the townspeople run scared or act crazy. Through their actions, the audience can see that such awful occurrences are not uncommon. Also, none of the characters are normal western “heroes” who can shoot from the hip and hit a running man at 100 yards. Each man shoots how a normal, somewhat-skilled cowboy would shoot.

Bone Tomahawk‘s greatest deviation from The Searchers though is its gradual descent from a western film into a horror one.  One of the first indications of such a transition begins with the Zahler’s decision to limit his shots to medium and close-up shots of the search party. At first, this limitation annoyed me because I wanted to see the grand landscapes that often paint western films. However, as Zahler restricts his shots, the audience loses more and more knowledge of what actions occurred outside of the frame, creating a sense of unease. Zahler compounds this feeling by electing not to add a score or soundtrack to the film. Breathing, crickets, and the wind are the only sounds the audience hears, which increased my fear because I felt so alone and lost while watching this movie. Normally, a movie’s score indicates when something is about to happen. Most horror movies have a soundtrack and when it stops, it is hinting that something is about to occur. Bone Tomahawk provided no such signposts leaving me on edge for most of the film.

Zahler also wrote the film and followed a tried and true formula. Place your characters in a bad situation and then make it worse. He did a fantastic job executing this strategy because with each passing moment, the search party fell into deeper and deeper peril. The reason I enjoyed this facet of the movie is because Zahler created believable reasons for each calamity to occur. My favorite was a brief moment of anger from Samantha’s husband, Arthur (Patrick Wilson), one of the four members of the search party. Mr. Brooder, another searcher, made a quip about Samantha that related to an earlier scene. Arthur responds negatively to the joke, punching Brooder. While his punch landed solidly on Brooder’s jaw, Arthur’s broke leg, in splints, lands unevenly on a rock causing the bone to break the skin. This injury forces Arthur to stay behind as the rest of the party carry’s on with its search.


Despite all these great facets, the moment that pushed Bone Tomahawk from an excellent film to a classic occurred later in the film when the savages overpower the search party and take them captive. The savages, who are also cannibals, lock the survivors into a cage and take out the previously captured deputy. Up to this point in the film, most violence acts were not shown but only heard. In what was the most grisly scene I’ve ever seen in my life, the savages take the deputy out of his cage, scalp him, shove his scalp in his mouth, take a tomahawk to his genitals, and then devour him. Zahler’s relative restraint in violence up to that point, combined with the high morality of the sheriff and his cohort (except for Brooder at times), the scene was unsettling to the extreme and made hope unreachable for the heroes.

Target Audience: Adults only.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham