===FILM ONLY REVIEW===
I came across Cell 211 by chance, when it was being promoted as available to stream for free as part of my lovefilm.com subscription. It was well worth a watch for "free", and if you don't have a lovefilm account (why not?!) then the DVD is currently available on www.amazon.co.uk at the price of £8.73.
Running time: 1 hour 53 minutes
Directed by: Daniel Monzon
Starring: Luis Tosar, Alberto Ammann, Antonio Resines, Manuel Moron
Certificate rating: 18
Tagline: To survive inside, he has to become one of them.
In this an award winning, action packed thriller, a new prison officer has a desperate battle for survival when he is mistakenly trapped in a prison as a riot unfolds. His only way out is by pretending to be a prisoner, but first he will have to successfully befriend a violent inmate leading the rebellion.
... Bad day at the office? ...
Juan Oliver, a newly employed prison guard keen to make a good impression, ends up way out of his depth in a situation that spirals completely out of control. Making a special effort to impress his employers by going in for a tour on the day before he is due to officially begin work at the prison, he sustains a mild injury during the tour and is left in the unoccupied Cell 211 while the other guards venture off for medical supplies. Immediately, Juan is caught up in the outbreak of a violent prison riot, and has to keep the secret from the inmates that he is in fact a prison guard. Can he gain their trust and make them believe that he is just another prisoner? This is the only way that he can survive in such dangerous surroundings, and the atmosphere is very tense even from the outset.
It is easy to identify with Juan from the very beginning, thanks to the addition of some sweet and simple flashback moments that show him at home with his heavily pregnant wife, and depicts him as an all-round nice guy. It doesn't hurt that he's easy on the eye, either! Juan is swept along in these extreme circumstances and in an attempt to stay alive when all around him is breaking down, he falls in with the leader of the riot, the powerful and brutal Malamadre, who uses Juan to his advantage because of his clear intelligence and willingness to prove himself as the "new guy".
... Action, heart and brains! ...
I love a good action film, but often the plot seems to be completely lacking, or so ridiculously elaborate that I completely lose interest. With Cell 211 I found it to be engaging all the way through, as it was fast paced with plenty of action scenes, but also balanced well with a strong plot that includes a moral compass, emotional responsiveness, and several clever twists and turns that made my own reactions echo the reactions of the characters. I was excited, angry and despairing at all the right moments, thanks to the strong and believable performances by all of the actors. The way that the story plays out shows things from the outside as well as the inside so it's really interesting to see the tactics that are used and how the situation is handled by the guards on the outside, as well as by Juan stuck on the inside. Funnily enough, even though there were many violent scenes, I thought that the actual violence depicted was not overly graphic or distasteful, and I was able to watch the film comfortably without any nasty, cringy "eww" moments where I would usually look away from any on-screen gore!
The best thing about Cell 211 was that it challenged my perceptions and made me question where my loyalties should lie when viewing both sides of the story. The riot situation is not what you might first expect it to be, and the actions of those in control on the outside were just as (if not more) shocking than the things the prisoners were getting up to. There are plenty of power struggles to follow, between the inmates themselves, and when bargaining with the guards for the resolution and end to the riot. This is not what I would think of as a typical action movie, or even a typical prison drama. It was really gripping to watch and had me glued to the screen. The only issue that I had was because it is a Spanish film, I was watching a version with English subtitles. I've usually got no issue with subtitles, but in this case, I did find that they distracted me from the actual scenes and it was easy to miss snippets of dialogue if my vision was more focused on the action itself, so I ended up rewinding and watching bits again in order to keep up with it all.
Usually when I've watched this sort of thing before there's been focus on an older character, probably due to retire and coming up against some awful, life-threatening situation. I found it quite refreshing to see a story told from the perspective of someone just beginning their career instead. It has plenty of action and the characters are fun to watch without being as overly stereotyped as they can be in this sort of movie. I would definitely recommend Cell 211 as an exciting and interesting prison drama.