Cell 211 (18)
The premise is a simple one. A new guard at a crumbling high security prison is injured when a piece of plaster hits him – just as the facility experiences its latest riot. Bundled into a vacant cell and abandoned by his guides, he awakens to find himself in the lions’ den…
Alberto Ammann is Juan, the outside thrust into a hellish dog-eat-dog world; Luis Tosar is Malamadre, the prison kingpin whom he must convince that he has been jailed for murder.
Daniel Monzón’s nervy thriller takes off in several directions, none of which seem to appear on the standard cinematic compass. In Cell 211 he presents as impressive a prison drama as the movies have delivered in recent years, an accomplishment only let down by Malamadre’s willingness to accept his new recruit.
Monzón focuses on a war of wits between the prison staff, the government, a waiting SWAT team and the incarcerated convicts. Throughout the stand-off Malamadre chips away at Juan’s story but, eventually accepts him as one of just another cold-eyed thug.
His metamorphosis – both fantastical and real – is built via relationships with other old-timers on both sides of the law. Utrilla (Antonio Resines) is a veteran prison guard who favours breaking skulls to achieve a result. Others prefer a waiting game based on psychology and negotiation.
Malamadre isn’t concerned with any of that. Neither can he see how his own position is becoming weaker as others silently jostle for position.
The excitement in watching Cell 211 is in anticipating when Juan will get rumbled, and via whom. The prisoners circle him like rabid dogs with one, the beastly Releches (Luis Zahera), always seeking an opportunity to bite.
The star turn here is Tosar as Malamadre. Resembling a balding, bearded version of Robbie Williams, he exudes menace and magnetism in equal measure. Based on the novel by Francisco Pérez Gandul, Cell 211 is already slated for a Stateside remake.