Alberto Ammann has the first day from hell in Spanish Cell 211, a film that focuses on the repercussions of a prison riot.
The premise is simple enough. Juan (Ammann) is a new prison guard. To show his eagerness and capability for the job he appears a day early and is shown around the prison. After several unfortunate mishaps during the tour he finds himself left in empty cell 211 as a full-blown riot breaks out.
Like a lot of Spanish cinema, what makes Cell 211 so absorbing is its immediacy and uncompromising pace. We watch in horror as he is forced to blend in with the barbaric rioters, stripping himself of any signs of the outside world. He soon becomes lead rioter Malamadre (Luis Tosar)’s right-hand man despite some of the prisoner’s doubts.
Cell 211 is powerful and evocative. Perhaps what makes it so immersing is the way in which it blends the boundaries between good and bad. At first Juan is afraid of the prisoners – he shies away from their barbaric natures and lies to survive. As the story progressing we see his attitude shift and, by the end, he’s calling for changes in the living standards he’s only been subjected to for a day.
Director Daniel Monzón deals with his story artfully. We grow to pity the prisoners, many of whom have suffered at the hands of the prison guards, and, when Juan’s wife is brought into the proceedings, we actively will the prisoners on as they fight for their rights.
In Malamadre, Luis Tosar skilfully portrays a very human rebel. He understands Juan’s emotional pain and fights for his fellow prisoners. He may be a murderer, but he’s got more heart than some of the film’s authority figures. The supporting cast are well-placed too, with drooling mad men, worried guards and corrupt leaders all contributing to the piece.
Cell 211 is heart-wrenching and does what Hollywood rarely achieves; it tells a unique story intelligently and absorbingly with relatively unknowns. Like a thinking man’s Con Air, Cell 211 packs a hefty punch.
Best performance: Alberto Ammann as Juan.