Director: Daniel Monzón
Cast: Alberto Ammann, Luis Tosar, Marta Etura
Running time: 113 minutes (Spanish with English subtitles)
By Robert O’ Reilly
The day before he starts his new job as a prison officer, Juan Oliver (Alberto Ammann) takes a tour of his new employee space and has the misfortune of being trapped in a jail cell while a full blown riot breaks out among the other inmates.
Now fearing for his life, Juan pretends to be a prisoner himself to blend in with the others and manages to fool them into thinking he’s fully on their side. Forming a tense but loyal friendship with raspy-voiced tough-guy Malamadre (Luis Tosar) along the way, Juan gets himself involved in negotiating for better living conditions for the other maltreated prisoners, while at the same time attempting to extract himself from the penitentiary and get back to his heavily-pregnant wife.
This is the basic premise of Daniel Monzón’s Goya award-winning Cell 211, and the director certainly doesn’t mess about with anything resembling a build-up but gets straight into his jail-set action-drama like he’s in a rush to get to the closing credits. With snappy dialogue and some squirm-inducing violence, the film could never be labelled as boring but some major flaws stop it from becoming what otherwise could have been something of a modern classic. First of all, the director’s propensity for overloading his film with contrived, coincidental situations detracts from the gritty-realism of the movie and his use of flashbacks is exaggerated at best and downright distracting at worst. It’s a pity, because Cell 211 really has a lot to offer its audience, with several genuinely good performances on show and some highly inventive directorial cleverness as well. The film also has some interesting points to make about the treatment of prisoners in Spain and also how corruption is seemingly rife in certain governmental departments there.
Lead actor Ammann is probably destined for greater things, as his performance is really excellent here in what is an extremely tricky role and Tosar (who played Montoya in Michael Mann’s Miami Vice reboot), is certainly one to watch too. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Hollywood comes knocking on Monzón’s door at some stage in the near future asking for the rights to a remake of this, as the central concept of the film often makes for intriguing cinema.
Cell 211 is pretty solid entertainment that perhaps could have been something so much better, and here’s hoping that Monzón’s next cinematic venture omits some of the clichés he allows to creep into this film, as he certainly has style to burn.