out of Five
Running time: 113
Impressively directed and superbly written, this is a powerful Spanish prison drama with terrific performances from Alberto Ammann and Luis Tosar.
What's it all about?
Directed by Daniel Monzon, Cell 211 is set in Zamora, Spain and stars Alberto Ammann as Juan Oliver, a handsome, 30-year-old man who has taken a job as a prison guard in order to support his pregnant wife, Elena (Marta Etura). However, while receiving a tour of the cell blocks on his first day, Juan is knocked unconscious by some falling masonry and taken to an empty cell, whereupon a riot breaks out and the guards are forced to leave him behind.
When he wakes up, Juan realises that he has no choice but to pretend to be one of the prisoners and he quickly tries to ingratiate himself with charismatic ringleader Malamadre (Luis Tosar). However, things rapidly get much more complicated when the prisoners take some ETA terrorists hostage and the prison officials begin to show their true colours.
Luis Tosar (Mondays in the Sun, Take My Eyes) deservedly won a Goya (a Spanish Oscar) for his sensational portrayal of Malamadre (the script doesn't translate it, but it means “badmother”, just as Juan's character is nicknamed “Calzones” or “Underpants”) and he's utterly mesmerising throughout, capable of shocking violence but also displaying a warm and caring side that is almost more disturbing, because you're constantly expecting him to explode. Argentinian newcomer Ammann is equally good, though he's possibly slightly too good-looking to survive in a prison environment and you wonder why he didn't consider modelling as an alternative.
In addition, there's strong support from Antonio Resines (as brutal guard Utrilla) and the film is shaded with colourful grotesques, such as growling monosyllabic junkie Releches, played by Luis Zahera or Columbian leader Apache (played by Javier Bardem's brother, Carlos).
Monzon keeps tight control of his material throughout, particularly in regard to the way your sympathies shift from scene to scene. He also ratchets up the tension to unbearable levels (the scene where Juan quickly has to hide all his personal items is extremely well done) and orchestrates several powerfully shocking moments that are particularly effective.
In short, Cell 211 is a powerful and engaging Spanish prison drama with a strong script and a terrific central performance from Luis Tosar. Highly recommended.
Cell 211 (Celda 211) (18)