Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Cell 211: Spanish hard time

Cell 211 falls right in that sweet spot of claustrophobic genre movies that I love. It stands toe-to-toe with movies like Assault on Precinct 13, Die Hard and Rear Window. I had heard that this Spanish thriller was good -- I didn't realise it would be THAT good.

The premise is (initially) very simple. New prison guard Juan (Alberto Ammann) is knocked out in an accident and wakes up to find the cell block in the middle of a riot. Pretending to be a new inmate, he gains the trust of bald, charismatic riot leader Malamadre (Luis Tosar).

Based on the premise, this has the makings of a solid genre flick. Thanks to the backdrop, the filmmakers are able to throw in some real world wrinkles (the inmates are using a group of important ETA members as bargaining chips) which prevent the story from going in any predictable direction. As Juan is pulled deeper and deeper into the standoff between prisoners and police, he quickly learns that the usual cop-crim, good-bad binaries do not exist. The authorities are as untrustworthy as Malamadre's mob, a fact hammered home when Juan's wife Elena (Marta Etura) is drawn into the fray.

Friends become enemies, enemies become friends  -- everything that Juan and the audience knows and accepts as right and wrong is completely upended. As the situation escalates, Juan undergoes a terrifying character arc which sends the narrative spiralling out of control.

This movie is incredible. With its tight script, strong, visceral direction from Daniel Monzon and committed performances from its cast, Cell 211 rises far above its B-movie trappings to emerge as a truly exceptional drama that is deserving of its multiple Goya awards. 

Check it out before the inevitable Hollywood remake.

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