10 August, 2011

Celda 211 (Cell 211)

By Dan Collacott

Director: Daniel Monzón – Runtime: 113 mins

I expected much from Daniel Monzón’s violent prison thriller but the end result was probably as bland as the prison food served to the inmates.

The premise is sound enough, Juan Oliver (Alberto Ammann) is a prison guard diligently visiting his new place of work a day early. During his first tour of the prison he is injured by falling debris (from a work scaffold) and taken to Cell 211 to recover. Before the Dazed and concussed Juan can recover a dangerous riot breaks out, his new workmates abandon him to avoid the oncoming storm.

On being discovered Juan has to pretend to be an inmate in order to ensure his survival. From that moment on he falls deeper down the rabbit hole, making ever more desperate decisions in the hope of seeing his pregnant wife again. It is Juan’s ability to blend in and distort the escalating situation to his benefit that draws the most intrigue from the film; until that is - the line between pretence and reality is lost when the plot takes a turn for the worst.

For just over an hour the tension is ramped up to the max as events and actions around him play Russian roulette with Juan’s life, but the ‘will he or won’t he get found out’ tension soon grows tiring and the circumstances that sustain him feel largely far fetched. It seemed pretty ridiculous that having had no previous connection to the dangerous and malevolent riot leader Malamadre (Luis Tosar in inspired form) that Juan becomes so quickly closely aligned to Juan.

Without revealing spoilers here - the other twists and turns in the script were equally as ludicrous or baffling. The net result is Juan loses his mind and identity, whilst the lines between good and evil are blurred with a few barbed social and political comments dished out with prison issue soup ladles.

Ammann and Tosar’s on screen chemistry keeps the film ticking over, the supporting cast, cinematography and editing are also exemplary. Despite this the dramatic curve balls thrown in make the film feel like an episode of ‘Prison Break’ or some equally inane piece of US soap opera. The anti-fascist sentiment and commentary on terrorism and Spanish domestic and social issues are clumsily woven into to a story that is just too far-fetched and predictable. Don’t get me wrong this is by no means a bad film and many people I know enjoyed it, just be prepared to suspend all disbelief until after you come out of the theatre.

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