Vince Vaughn in Brawl in Cell Block 99.

If you saw Bone Tomahawk a couple of years ago, you saw the directorial debut of S. Craig Zahler (who also wrote the script), a guy who knows how to tell bleak, brutal stories. I thought Tomahawk was nasty, but it’s a tea party with bunny rabbits compared to Zahler’s second feature, Brawl in Cell Block 99. (He penned the script for this one, too.)

Vince Vaughn shaves his head and steps into the role of Bradley Thomas, a tow-truck driver who loses his job and discovers his wife (Jennifer Carpenter) is having an affair. After a meltdown in which Bradley destroys a car with his bare hands, he makes a bad career choice and returns to his former life of crime—running drugs to both save his marriage and make some money.

Things don’t go well, and Bradley winds up in a couple of prisons—ultimately resulting in the event mentioned in the title, an unholy showdown with his new enemies. That event is a bloody affair, featuring heads getting crushed by boots, and victims spitting jawbones out of their mouths while dying. (The film is unrated and often quite gross.)

The transformation Vaughn undergoes here is stunning. Yes, he’s handled dramatic roles well in the past, but he’s never done anything this dark and physically brooding. He’s a one-man wrecking machine here, and you will believe he can take out rooms full of attacking marauders with violent proficiency.

This movie is a sick trip, with the normally humorous Vaughn a million miles away from jokester laughs.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is available via online sources including iTunes and