On the day before starting a job as a prison guard, Juan Olivier (Alberto Ammann), decides to take a tour of his new place of work. This turns out to be a very bad move, putting him in the high-security block at the same time that lifer Malamadre (Luis Tosar) has chosen to start a riot. In a desperate, split-second decision, Juan decides to pretend to be a new prisoner. The block erupts, hostages are taken, the media crews and SWAT teams close in and the tension rises. Juan’s future and his chances of getting back to his pregnant wife (Marta Etura) seem ever more doubtful in the midst of murderous cons, trigger-happy screws, corrupt cops and the duplicitous, weaselling authorities. Who can he trust, and what will he do to survive?
Daniel Monzón’s Cell 211 is a terrific, angry piece of genre filmmaking. It has the pace, the twists and turns and the forward momentum of a Hollywood production, but is a tougher, sweatier proposition; it doesn’t pussy out in the last reel, and has a political edge rare in mainstream entertainment. This is a complicated world of shifting alliances, black humour and sudden brutality where the police and government can get you killed just as fast as a psycho with a shiv, given authenticity by using real ex-cons in a genuine prison location. To be sure, some of the plot swings, the speed of the developing relationship between Olivier and Malamadre for instance, seem unreal in the cold light of day. I don’t believe that these events would happen like this in the real world, but for 113 tense, charged minutes I was wholly swept up in them.