Review: Cell 211
PLOT: Juan (Alberto Ammann) - an expectant young father-to-be, just got a job as a prison guard in one of Spainís most dangerous supermax facilities. Before starting work, he decides to take a guided tour of the facility, but heís wounded by a diversion created by the prisoners to spark a riot. Left in an empty cell by his colleagues, who are forced to flee, Juan ends up caught in the middle of a full scale riot. Thinking fast, Juan ditches anything that could expose him as a guard, and poses as a new prisoner. Soon, he ingratiates himself with Malmardre (Luis Tosar), the charismatic inmate kingpin, and must keep the ruse going if he wants to make it back to his pregnant wife in one piece.
REVIEW: Now hereís what I call a smart, sophisticated thriller. CELL 211, a huge hit in its native Spain, is the kind of blockbuster thatís rarely made anymore, in that it both thrills audiences, and challenges them. I realize that the plot outline probably doesnít make this sound like much more than another prison-actioner, but CON AIR this is not.
Director Daniel Monzon has loftier goals in mind. While it doesnít skimp on the action, CELL 211 also has something important to say about the dehumanizing status of prisons in Spain. Here, a lifer like Malmardre, whoís presented as essentially a good man, albeit exceedingly ruthless, is treated like an animal, while other inmates are regularly brutalized by guards who are little better than the prisoners theyíre guarding. Meanwhile, separatist Basque terrorists, also imprisoned in the facility are treated like kings. To get his point across, Malmardre makes it a point not to capture guards, as he knows theyíre expendable (even Juan is treated this way). Rather, he takes the Basque terror cell captive, knowing that the government, in fear of reprisals, will have no choice but to negotiate.
As Malmadre, Luis Tosar is phenomenal, with this being the kind of iconic tough guy role that would be a big step-up for someone like Vin Diesel or Jason Statham if this gets an American remake (sure enough, Paul Haggis is working on one). Tosarís already a huge star in Spain, but this is the type of part that will no doubt lead to a lot of big parts in international and American productions (although several years ago, he played the main baddie in Michael Mannís big-screen MIAMI VICE update).
However, Alberto Ammann, in the less showy part of Juan, deserves a lot of recognition as well. Initially, Juan is slotted into the hero role, but midway through, the hero/villain roles occupied by Malmardre and Juan undergo a sort of reversal, leading to a conclusion thatís utterly unpredictable and even thought provoking.
Meanwhile, Mozonís gritty, realistic technique, feature lots of hand-held digital photography, some imaginative flashes of non-linear storytelling, and an almost entirely absent musical score, gives this the kick it wouldnít have if it were given a Hollywood polish. At a shade under two hours, the film is also downright masterly in its narrative economy, with no wasted scenes, or fat to distract from the story at hand.
Obviously, CELL 211 is a film to see- American remake or not. Even if it does get remade by someone like Haggis, Iím fairly certain itíll be either sanitized, or made into a more predictable actioner. If you enjoy quality foreign fare, CELL 211 is a film to see. Itís hard, but itís thrilling.