Cellule 211 Critique Essay

A lawman must side with a gang of criminals if he's to save his own life in this action drama from Spanish director Daniel Monzon. Juan Oliver (Alberto Ammann) has accepted a job as a prison guard, and the day before he begins work he leaves his pregnant wife Elena (Marta Etura) at home and goes to the penitentiary for an orientation session. During a tour of the facilities, Juan is struck on the head in a freak accident; he passes out and is carried to a nearby cell. As the jailers wait for a doctor to arrive, a riot breaks out, and Juan is left behind. When he wakes up, all is in chaos, and Malamadre (Luis Tosar) and a band of fellow inmates have taken control of the prison. Malamadre thinks Juan is another prisoner, and for the sake of his own survival he plays along, throwing in his lot with fellow rebels Tachuela (Vicente Romero) and Releches (Luis Zahera). When Malamadre learns that a handful of Basque terrorists are confined to the same prison, he sees an opportunity to use them as a bargaining chip with the government, and Juan is caught between saving his own skin and helping Malamadre make a deal that could have grave nationwide implications. Celda 211 (aka Cell 211) received its North American premiere at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Here is a big, brash, violent, and even slightly outrageous high-concept prison movie from Spain, well plotted with some neat narrative switchbacks, and pitched with gusto at a commercial market – rather than the loftier stratum at which Jacques Audiard was aiming with his A Prophet. It looks ripe for an English-language remake, and has already been sold to Hollywood. Alberto Ammann is Juan, a fresh-faced young guy who turns up for his new job as a prison guard and finds himself right in the middle of a terrifying situation: a riot kicks off just as he is undergoing his informal induction process. Soon Juan finds himself having to take desperate measures to survive and confronting the prison's toughest inmate, the brutish Malamadre, played by Luis Tosar. This man controls life on the inside, but finds that the riot he notionally controls is coming to call his own authority into question. There is something melodramatic and soapy about Cell 211 occasionally, but it really is exciting. Tosar is an actor who deserves a breakthrough to a larger audience – who knows if he might not follow Javier Bardem into international stardom – and for sheer storytelling pizazz, Cell 211 delivers.

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