Cell 211 (18)


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The Independent Culture

There's a riot going on in a Spanish maximum security prison, whose Darwinian savagery is right up there with A Prophet.

Daniel Monzon's thriller is more of a genre piece, but it's as sharp as a cellblock shiv and taut as wire mesh. Juan (Alberto Ammann) is a new guard inspecting the facility when hell breaks loose and he's left behind, injured, by fleeing colleagues. A siege gets under way. With great quick thinking he pretends to be an inmate, a masquerade that the convicts and their fearsome leader Malamadre (Luis Tosar) seem to buy. But Juan's ordeal is complicated by the authorities' inept handling of the stand-off and a political imbroglio concerning three ETA prisoners taken hostage. Monzon tightens the screw with expert pacing and plotting whose contrivance may only slightly bother you: scene by scene the tension is fiendishly well orchestrated, as Juan maintains his bluff in the face of terrifying pressure. The film's deeper point concerns a Spanish penal system so brutal and corrupt that it allows sick inmates to die and embraces treachery to save its own skin. The moral scales become wildly unbalanced as cops turn criminal and crims reveal their capacity for honour. It is superbly acted, by Tosar in particular. Nobody will be surprised to learn that a US remake is in the pipeline. Make sure you see this one first.