Sometimes there is no escape from the institutions we create. That's a lesson, prison movie 'Cell 211' tries to convey. It's not often that a prison thriller becomes as celebrated as Cell 211, but this quick-thinking drama is not your average jailbreak genre movie. Prison dramas are fertile grounds for sensationalism and exploitation. Men caged like animals with nothing to lose. Cynical, thuggish guards. Casual dehumanizing violence. Writer-director Daniel Monzon lays out these basic, albeit terrifying, premise and molds it into an intelligent story of man's potential inhumanity.
PlotEnthusiastic Juan Oliver (Alberto Ammann), loving husband of a pregnant wife turns up for his new prison job a day early. As he's being given an intro to how the place works, a chunk of ceiling falls onto Juan, and he is rushed, unconscious, to cell 211. He awakens to find a rebellion in progress, led by Malamadre (Luis Tosar).
Juan convinces Malamadre, that he is a new inmate who has been beaten up by guards. Juan's job from that moment forward becomes not just to maintain his deception , but to prevent a raid by the paramilitary forces arrayed on every rooftop and waiting for the go-ahead to attack.
A little introduction on Spanish politics is useful, at this point. The three men being held hostage by the prisoners also happen to be members of a Basque separatist movement widely considered to be a terrorist organization. Prisons across Spain are full of them, and any injury to one would precipitate retaliatory bloodshed across the country.
Juan has to hold both forces at bay, convincing Malamadre that he's trustworthy (that is, a crook) while reassuring the state's chief negotiator (Manuel Moron) that he's devious enough to keep the other crooks in line.
AnalysisThe situation, to put it mildly, is tense, and Monzon knows it. Adapting the novel of the same name, Monzon and co-writer Jorge place the viewer in the doomed shoes of Juan Oliver. Monzon, deftly handles the complex web of intrigue and betrayal that unfolds. It helps immeasurably that he’s assembled such a remarkable cast, led by Luis Tosar who plays Malamadre.
Luis Tosar, using his gravelly voice as a threatening complement, he makes an entirely convincing, charismatic leader while successfully showing a more tender side in his protection of Juan. Through Malamadre, Monzón turns Cell 211 into an indictment of the Spanish prison system, without being preachy. Amman as Juan Oliver puts all the desperation on the screen with levels of acting complexity and subtlety that impress from the start. The talented Amman makes it easy for us to believe his seamless integration into a dangerous world.
An abandoned jail was cleaned up for the shoot, creating a compellingly chaotic feel. "Cell 211" is less controlled in scenes outside the prison, sometimes resorting to uncharacteristically soapy slo-mo to get its dramatic points across. Likewise, the use of happy-family flashbacks is at odds with the pic's generally taut feel. The real horrors in Cell 211 don't have much to do with life behind bars: They're more about the cold, steely hearts of men capable of anything -- and how easily we, too, can become one of them.
Cell 211 moves at a breakneck pace, and will you shaken yet satisfied.
Cell 211 - Imdb