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Film / Brawl in Cell Block 99

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"The Red Leaf Detention Center is classified as a maximum security facility. But there's another term I prefer. One that I think will give you a clear picture. Minimum freedom."

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a grindhouse-style action thriller by director S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk).

Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn) is a reformed criminal trying to provide an honest living for his wife, Lauren, in the wake of a miscarriage that has strained their relationship. After getting laid off from his job, Bradley returns to drug running, and the couple revive their marriage with a new pregnancy. Things are looking up until a job gone wrong sends him to the slammer, where a vengeful crime lord blackmails him to murder an inmate or see his wife and unborn daughter slaughtered. Now Bradley has to fight his way through the prison system to save his family, at whatever cost.



  • Action Girl: Lauren has to become one.
    • First she unsuccessfully tried to defend herself during the abduction.
    • In the end she kills the man who was going to forcibly abort her child.
  • Adult Fear: Bradley is afraid to lose his child. He has some reasons to be.
  • Affably Evil: Warden Tuggs.
  • Agony of the Feet: Bradley's slippers during his first day in prison cause his feet to bleed.
  • Anti-Hero: Bradley. He is somewhat well-intentioned and only reluctantly resumes his involvement in the drug trade. Although he commits several acts of extreme brutality while in prison, his enemies are all way worse than him. He mostly remains sympathetic but he's still a pretty ruthless anti-hero.
  • Anti-Villain: Warden Tuggs. His job is to watch over convicts that were too unruly for other prisons, so his brutal ways almost seem justified at first. However, the way he gets off on mistreating Bradley right from the moment he meets him makes it abundantly clear he's abusing his authority.
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  • Asshole Victim: Bradley brutalizes several prison guards over the course of the film. They're all corrupt and sadistic scumbags so it's hard to feel bad for them.
  • Bad Guys Play Pool: Zigzagged for Gil who is definitely "planning some dastardly deed at the same time" (when playing pool) as he is a crime boss. However in relation to Bradley he totally redeems himself in the end of the film.
  • Bald of Evil: Bradley Thomas. Complete with the tatto of the cross on the back of his head.
  • Bishōnen: The abortionist.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Thomas is killed by Warden Tuggs but he manages to kill all the bad guys (except for Tuggs, of course) and ensures the safety of his wife and unborn child.
  • Blackmail Backfire: A glorious case of that.
  • Boom, Headshot!: After killing Eleazar, Bradley meets his end this way at the hands of Warden Tuggs.
    • After Lauren is handed over to Gil, Gil pulls out a sniper rifle and shoots The Placid Man, before handing the rifle to Lauren so she can take out The Abortionist.
  • Brains and Brawn: The two Mexican gangsters who work with Bradley.
  • Cardboard Box of Unemployment: Bradley in the first scene takes his things from his workplace in that.
  • Characteristic Clothing Colors: Here it characterizes the current situation of the main character. When free, he wears all black. In the medium-security prison, they make him put on blue. In the maximum security prison, he sports orange garments.

  • Character Shilling: When Bradley threatens to kill a guard if his conditions aren't met, the prisoner from the cell across reassures Tuggs and his men that "He'll do it!... Efficiently!"

  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Bradley is incredibly strong and tough, able to dismantle a car with his bare hands and break bones with a few blows.
  • Cigar Chomper: Warden Tuggs smokes if not cigars then cigarillas.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Bradley is an incredibly brutal fighter, and has no problem kicking people while they're down (literally.)
  • Cool Car: Lots, especially the one Bradley drives in the beginning.
  • Creepy Monotone: The Placid Man.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: None of Bradley's opponents give him a challenge. He dominates every fight he's in.
  • Deadly Closing Credits: How Bradley dies.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Many of these here, including the protagonist but also various wardens.
  • Death of a Child: In the recent past, the Thomases lost their girl. It instigates the Adult Fear of Bradley when his wife becomes pregnant again.
  • Determinator: Bradley stops at nothing to keep his family safe.
  • Domestic Abuse: Zigzagged in the first scene of the Thomas spouses together. Despite being obviously livid, he tells her to go inside the house and then smashes her car to pieces with his bare hands.
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Averted by warden Tuggs who wants to be called "sir".
  • The Dragon: Bradley is this to Gil.
  • Electric Torture: It is applied to Bradley once he's transferred to Cell Block 99.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Bradley, upon finding out of Lauren's affair, calmly and thoroughly destroys her sedan, showcasing both his Tranquil Fury demeanor, along with his near-superhuman strength. Bradley is also very methodical, as seen with how he gradually dismantles the car piece-by-piece before going to calmly discuss matters with Lauren. It's also first emphasized during this scene that Bradley is a tall guy, looming over Lauren and every other character he encounters. It all comes together to illustrate that while Bradley is built like a brick shithouse, he's not a dumb, lumbering brute like Elezar assumes him to be.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Roman, Eleazer's primary thug, has an extremely deep voice.
  • Fictional Counterpart: The "Red Leaf" prison that Thomas winds up in and which houses the titular cell block is likely a reference to the real-life Red Onion State Prison, a maximum security facility located in Virginia with a similar history of human rights violations.
  • Foreshadowing: In the medium-security prison the guard says to Bradley: "give me the reason not to turn you face into a cocktail". Later warden Tuggs does exactly that.
  • From Bad to Worse: Bradley first is fired from his job and learns that his wife has cheated on him. Then he somewhat rebounds what with his lucrative job in the drug trade. However still after that he is imprisoned, sentenced to seven years in jail and lands in a medium security prison, And then things still take the turn for worse.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: From the point of view of the prisons, Bradley is this. From a man on his first offense who worked to prevent the deaths of law-enforcement officers to an insanely brutal psychopath who mutilates guards regularly, and who kills one (albeit accidentally) by the end of the film.
  • Genius Bruiser: Aside from his fighting prowess, Bradley is also highly intelligent, as seen when he neutralizes the effects of his stun belt through the soles of his shoes.
  • Gentle Giant: Bradley in spades, almost exclusively to Lauren and their unborn child.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: How Bradley typically fights. While he does use a few boxing techniques (befitting his alleged past in the ring), most of his fighting consists of wild swings, even against trained martial artists. Of course, given his sheer size and monstrous strength, it's all he needs.
  • Handy Cuffs: Predictably this trope appears here.
  • Happily Married: Kauren and Bradley are. For a while.
  • Hellhole Prison: Red Leaf. Cell Block 99 takes this Up to Eleven, resembling a medieval dungeon rather than a prison.
  • The Hero Dies Or rather the anti-hero killed by the anti-villain.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Gil's daughter notes that she calls his billiard room a pool room, while Gil himself calls it a billiard room.
    • Bradley always corrects people who call him "Brad" to call him "Bradley."
  • Instant Sedation: Played with. Two tranquilizing darts sedate Lauren but not immediately so. She still has the strength to shoot several times.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: Notably averted, in that they're virtually the only injury that actually appears on Bradley's body through the course of the film, other than his foot.
  • Kangaroo Court: That's what the court for Bradley Thomas appears to be. Though he participates in the drug trade he takes down two criminals during their shoot-out with the police (thus preventing deaths on their side) and is expected to be sentenced to three or four years. In the end he is sentenced to seven years.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Warden Tuggs who hurts Bradley and avoids any consequences. Granted, Bradley is the worst case of the inmate and he has to somehow control him, however he still seems to revel in shocking him. In the end he is not punished for his sadism.
    • Gil, in spire of being a drug lord, is one of the good guys and never gets justice. This is in spite of several people discussing how drugs harm people.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black:
    • The morality of Bradley Thomas and Warden Tuggs might be painted lighter shades of black than that of the Placid Man, the abortionist and the gangsters who torment Bradley in the maximum-security prison where they first lure him.
    • Also Gil is a crime boss although in the end he redeems himself towards Bradley.
  • Locked in the Dungeon: Bradley in the third act when he is sent to the maximum-security prison and violates rules even there beating up several inmates in the yard.
  • Lost Wedding Ring: The wedding ring of Bradley is first taken away by a guard in the medium-security prison.
    • Then it is intentionally rid of in the maximum-security prison by warden Tuggs who who throws it away during the strip search of Bradley in the court in front of the prison.
  • Made of Iron: Established when Bradley tears apart his wife's car with his bare hands, not registering any pain as he bashes metal and plunges his hands in broken glass. During fights, he never registers any pain from his opponents' attacks and barely even shows visible damage.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: The old mad prisoner in the dungeon of the maximum security prison who is incarcerated here for many years. He refuses to say what his crime was. He might have forgotten or might have not.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Averted with Bradley whose private parts are not shown during the strip search when he enters the medium-security prison.
    • Similarly averted when he is strip searched in front of the maximum-security prison.
  • Male Gaze: Subverted, as the elderly prisoner warns Bradley not to look below his case officer's neckline, and lewdly goes on about her "nice set of cans." However, the case officer in question is wearing completely non-revealing clothing, and nothing is made of it.
  • Meaningful Name: Bradley as in Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
  • The Millstone: Bradley's mistrust of Roman proves to well-founded. After ignoring Bradley's concerns that they're walking into a police sting, Roman proceeds to open fire on the waiting FBI officers, botching the entire operation and ensuring that his and Bradley's sentences will be much more severe for the attempted murder of an federal agent.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Gil's daughter who opens the door for Bradley boasts very long legs that are completely bare. Bradley lampshades it, asking whether her father chose the outfit for her. She is played by Devon Windsor.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Why Bradley's life starts to really spiral down? Because, instead of just walking away, he attacks his criminal associates to avoid the death of some policemen. This gets him jailed and pushes Elezar, the drug boss, to seek revenge.
  • N-Word Privileges: Bradley thinks that Gil does not have any.
  • Off with His Head!: How Bradley kills Elezar. By using a shitter hole.
  • One Last Job: A mild example. Gil needs Thomas to do the job for him, so he promises him a 3-month leave after that which will last until Lauren delivers their baby. However, it is assumed that he will resume his activities after that.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Bradley discusses his patriotism with a detective, stating that he owns two American flags, one displayed over his front door.
  • Pet the Dog: Bradley establishes his basic decency a few times in the early parts of the film.
    • It seems like Bradley might explode at his former employer or his cheating wife, but he treats both with understanding, showing that he's a good person deep down.
    • When Gil crassly asks him about the pronunciation of a racial epithet, Bradley calmly informs him that he's not supposed to say it at all.
    • Bradley is kind to an old and half-insane prisoner with whom he is locked in with in Cell Block 99. He even gives him a taser with which he was tormented after he manages to beat the guards.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Gil who makes racist and homophobic remarks. Bradley reservedly calls him out on both. Thus it is implied that he is very tough but politically correct, despite the gruesome acts of violence he later commits.
    • Bradley is a little bit of one himself, if his "Red, white, and burrito" line is anything to go by.
      • Bradley’s “Red, White, and burrito” line is clearly stated in order to goad someone into a fight, so it’s not necessarily an example of prejudice on Bradley’s part. This is supported at the beginning of the film with Bradley's mistrust of Roman, as Roman being Mexican is incidental to his sketchiness.
  • Pregnant Badass: Lauren.
  • Prison Rape: Invoked by an inmate. It might happen if you hurt a woman or a child. The inmate thinks that even such a fit character as Bradley would not be able to resist that.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: In this film Gil receives Karma Houdini because of that. As he is never at fault for Bradley he remains a "positive" character in the movie though it is clear that he is criminal when considered objectively.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Invoked by Lefty while showing Bradley around.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The guards at the medium-security prison aren't particularly bad people, and are instead regular guys trying to do their jobs. Especially notable in the prison boxing instructor, as while he does antagonize Bradley, he apologizes for it and checks in to see if he is doing alright.
  • The Reveal: There is no "Christopher Bridge" in Cell Block 99. Eleazar and the Cartel tricked Bradley into getting himself moved to Red Leaf so that they could personally torture him for helping to put them away.
  • Smug Snake: Eleazar, the vindictive crime boss who gets Bradley landed in jail as revenge for one of his own goons screwing up. While he's tormenting Bradley and threatening the man's family, his snide, self-assured tone never wavers. This all changes after Bradley takes drastic measures.
    Bradley: Call off your guy.
    Elezar: Return to your cell.
    Bradley: *sighs* I'll do this the other way.
    Cue Bradley cracking Elezar's leg in half at the kneecap.
  • Sniper Rifle: Gil and Lauren kill the Placid Man and the abortionist using one.
  • She's Got Legs: Jil, Gil's daughter, has a very long pair of those.
  • Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee: A very grim version. Warden Tuggs is still about to execute Bradley for killing a guard, but goes for a smoke to give him enough privacy to call his wife one last time.
  • Temporary Love Interest: Lauren has an affair due to marital issues with Bradley, but she never loved him.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Lauren as nothing indicates in the beginning of the film that she is an Action Girl. In the end she even kills The Abortionist with Gil's sniper rifle.
  • Tranquil Fury: Bradley is The Stoic, but is obviously livid at Eleazar for threatening his family. He crushes Eleazar and his thugs with calm and brutal efficiency.
    • This is established early on with his demolishing of Lauren's car. He goes inside to have a calm, civil conversation with her, but is still so angry that he asks her not to approach him.
  • Villain Respect: Warden Tuggs starts out as just another sadistic prison boss, but by the end has enough respect for Bradley to allow him a last phone call before he guns him down.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Lauren vomits with panic and morning sickness when she hears someone breaking into her house, but she plants her head in a trashcan so it is not visible.
  • Wardens Are Evil:
    • Averted with the wardens and inmates in the medium security prison who are relatively good people, but are soon attacked by Bradley once Lauren is kidnapped.
    • Warden Tuggs is a sadistic law enforcer who enjoys mistreating his inmates, though they are the worst of the worst. He is still an Anti-Villain but a cruel one at that.
    • Wilson, one of the guards at Red Leaf, is a jerk to Bradley since the beginning. After Bradley breaks his arm, he gets meaner. He's in league with Eleazar and his thugs and happily hands Bradley over to them.
  • What Are You in For?: This Dead Horse Trope is reproduced here. First, Lefty asks Bradley about this in the medium-security prison and tells him that he himself is there for a double murder.
    • In Cell Block 99, where sex criminals are housed, Bradley's neighboring inmate refuses to say what he's in for, possibly pretending not to remember.
  • Who Wears Short Shorts?: Gil's daughter.
  • The Worf Effect: The first person Bradley beats down is the prison boxing instructor.
  • Would Not Hit a Girl: Played straight but barely so with Bradley. After his wife tells him in the very beginning that she was cheating on him he first drags her out of the car but does nothing more to her smashing the unfortunate car instead. Later they sit at a distance from each other in a room and have a tense conversation about their past and future and come to an agreement (to go on with their family life as Lauren affirms that she does not love the man with whom she cheated on Bradley). However after the conversation ends Bradley still asks his wife not to approach him and remain at the distance for some time.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Eleazar and his minions threaten Bradley's unborn daughter and seem to have every intention of following through.