Vince Vaughn is beginning to get out of his own way.
For years the tall drink of water, a motor-mouthed frat boy whose characters were never quite as charming as they thought they were, has been on cruise control. From one sour, ill-conceived “comedy” to the next, Vaughn has devolved from the indie-film sensation, to the curiously eccentric comedy actor, to the brilliant goofball, to a complete afterthought by the time the 2010s came calling.
But now, it appears Vince Vaughn might be trying to kickstart his very own Renaissance. If the early buzz emanating from Fantastic Fest regarding his performance in S. Craig Zahler’s hyper-violent Brawl in Cell Block 99 are any indication, Vaughn may have finally found the role to reconfigure his public persona. He’s going dark, and we should all be here for it.
He’s tried to shed the cornball schtick before, all throughout his career. It’s never quite taken. After Swingers, when he was the new indie comedy sensation, Vaughn did pop up in The Lost World, but the other films in the wake of his success were quirky dramas like A Cool, Dry Place, offbeat, forgettable late 90s thrillers like Clay Pigeons, and experimental art projects like the ill-advised Gus Van Sant Psycho remake. Which, if we’re sitting here in the trust tree… isn’t entirely without merit.
The 2000s were an up-and-down time for Vaughn, who went from the bizarro psychological thriller The Cell to the Jon Favreu-directed comedy Made, both of which I admire on different levels and for different reasons. And then, Vaughn embraced the overgrown frat/jock persona and his career found a second resurgence.
Both Old School and Wedding Crashers were huge hits. The Break-Up was half of a funny movie; and then, the bottom fell out of Vaughn’s career. Fred Claus. Four Christmases. The Dilemma. The Watch. The Internship. Unfinished Business. And in the span of a decade, Vince Vaughn turned from box-office gold, America’s favorite funny man, to a laughable parody of his former self. The problem was (one of them anyway), Vaughn had physically outgrown his manchild buffoonery bit. His eyes were tired, sadder now, his build thicker and more… well… middle aged. In those last few “comedies,” he looked tired, ready to give out on his character mid scene time and time again. Vince Vaughn wanted to reinvent himself, and you could see it in his heavy eyes.
That’s why he took on True Detective. He saw a chance to flip his own script. Like a few of those movies during his downturns, this writer will defend True Detective for its brash weirdness and dedication to just pure gonzo storytelling. Still, it wasn’t good enough. But it was enough of a taste for Vaughn to realize he had honest dramatic acting somewhere deep down inside. He was tapping into a well he had yet to mine, and Brawl in Cell Block 99 might just be the beginning of his latest, greatest chapter.
Vaughn is still going to do comedy – he has an upcoming movie on his IMDb page called Fighting With My Family, about a family of wrestlers – but he also has another S. Craig Zahler film on the horizon: Dragged Across Concrete. It may tap into Vaughn’s Hollywood outsider political views, especially since it’s the story of two white copes (he and Mel Gibson, of all people) who are suspended for their abusive tactics, but Vaughn isn’t here for your praises. He’s here to show you his dark side, his adult side. He’s not here to be your clown anymore… at least not all the time.