CELL 211 (18): On General Release Friday 15th July
There’s a depressing tendency in Hollywood to remake successful foreign language films (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Let The Right One In). It’s therefore no surprise that an English version of Cell 211 is under construction even as we speak (with Paul Haggis at the helm no less). One thing the execs have got right though is that it’s a film certainly worthy of attention as the Spanish language original is a taut, tense and gripping thriller.
A young prison guard being given the tour on his first day of work gets trapped in a cell after a riot overwhelms the block. Realising that if he’s fingered as one of the guards, he’d be as good as dead, he quickly removes any identifiers and poses as a new inmate.
He successfully fools the gang leader Malamadre (Luis Tosar who looks like real life version of Bluto from Popeye) and the rest of his cohorts but the authorities negotiating with the prisoners have their hands full desperately trying to keep his identity hidden from the outside. The situation escalates at the prisoners take some ETA terrorists hostage (more notorious because they’ve killed more people than the regulars and valuable because they’re being used as leverage by the government) and a demonstration outside the prison gets broken up by some rather nasty police brutality.
The real highlight is the growing relationship between Malamadre and Juan, the former showing that he might be brutal killer but that doesn’t mean he’s completely heartless and the latter not only succeeding in posing as an inmate but becoming so respected that he earns the nickname “Calzones”.
Luis Tosar is a revelation as the brutish Malamadre, a forceful personality who seems to dominate every scene he’s in. His moments of calm are particularly tense because you keep expecting him to fly off the handle at any moment. Alberto Ammann is also extremely good as Juan as he begins to realise that there’s more to the riots that simply anarchy and gradually begins to understand their point of view.
In fact everyone is painted in shades of grey and consequently there’s a deep feeling of distrust for every character, a distrust which will keep you on the edge of your seat. Writer and director Daniel Monzon’s marshalling of suspense is brilliant with Juan’s situation going from bad to worse, to even worse; it’s nail-biting to the very end.
It has an admittedly ridiculous set up. Juan is floored by a chunk of falling masonry, his pregnant wife turns up at the most inopportune moment and the plot depends on numerous other melodramatic contrivances but the pace is kept high, the suspense constant and the result is one of the most exciting prison movies to hit the cinema in recent years.