Cell 211


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Cell 211
"This film doesn't just have one good idea, it has many, and it segues them together beautifully." | Photo: Courtesy of EIFF

Opening with a desperate man slitting his wrists, Cell 211 makes no apologies for the brutality of prison life. Understanding, later, what led the man to do this reveals a brutality that extends far beyond the prison walls.

Alberto Ammann is Juan, an amiable young man with a pregnant wife he adores, keen to make a good impression at his new place of work. So keen, in fact, that he goes in a day early when one of the guards offers to show him around. But when a riot breaks out, Juan is trapped in the prison, his only hope hinging on the fact that he has not yet been seen dressed as a guard. If he is to survive, he must pass himself off as a new inmate. Thus a dangerous game begins.

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This is what is known in the industry as a high concept film, a film with such a strong central idea that few studios could resist taking a look at it. But can it sustain its premise? Rather surprisingly, the answer is yes. This film doesn't just have one good idea, it has many, and it segues them together beautifully. It also has a well-judged performance from Ammann, who must convince through a series of significant shifts of character, plus a powerful turn from Luis Tosar as charismatic convict leader Malamadre.

Although we (via Juan) have been told at the start that we should trust no one, we can't help being drawn toward this brutal but intelligent man with his own ideas about justice. As we identify with Juan's ruse, it's all too easy to find ourselves shifting sides, going native, though periodic outbursts of violence remind us just how ugly things can be within this community of damaged men.

Though arguably contrived in places and sometimes lacking when it comes to the supporting performances, Cell 211 is a striking piece of work that will leave you reeling. It's a thriller with something to say and it's considerably more thoughtful than it first appears, but its extra layers of meaning never compromise the action. The most brutal prison movie since Ghosts Of The Civil Dead, it is also one of the best.

Reviewed on: 21 Feb 2011
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When a prison guard is knocked unconscious at the start of a riot, he wakes to find he is trapped within the prison and must pretend to be a con to stay alive.
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Director: Daniel Monzón

Writer: Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Daniel Monzón, Francisco Pérez Gandul

Starring: Luis Tosar, Alberto Ammann, Antonio Resines, Manuel Morón, Carlos Bardem, Luis Zahera, Fernando Soto, Vicente Romero, Manolo Solo, Marta Etura, Joxean Bengoetxea, Patxi Bisquert, Jesús Carroza, Félix Cubero, Jesus Del Caso

Year: 2009

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Spain, France

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