It’s been a while since we were completely held captive by a film.
So we trolled the eddies and gullies of Netflix’ vast DVD cornucopia until we stumbled upon a movie that was as far removed from a boring Indian romance as Mercury from Pluto.
And the movie we picked – Cell 211 (2009).
Directed by Daniel Monzón, Cell 211 is a Spanish prison film that has won the acclaim of critics, admiration of moviegoers and respect of film juries (it won a whole bunch of Goya Awards).
Cell 211 is a gritty drama about a new prison guard Juan (Alberto Ammann) accidentally caught in the midst of a violent prison uprising.
It’s not even Juan’s first day on the job. He’s supposed to start the next day but has just come to look at how things work in the prison.
As Juan is being shown around the prison, unbeknownst to him or his fellow guards, there’s an insurrection brewing.
The violent uprising is triggered by simmering resentment among inmates over their harsh treatment by the guards, denial of medical care and frequent resort to solitary confinement.
We realize the simmering resentment and the inmates’ anger only ex post facto (i.e. after the riots break out) but get hints that all might not be well with a suicide in the early moments of the film.
As Juan is being show around the prison, he’s injured in a freak accident and instead of being taken to the infirmary, the guards for some inexplicable reason take him to an empty cell – Cell 211.
Moments later, as the prison uprising begins in all its fury Juan’s fellow guards abandon him and scamper for safety.
And it gets even better and the tension rises.
What will Juan Do?
Juan is forced into making some desperate, extremely unusual moves to survive amongst the violent criminals led by the ruthless Malamadre (Luis Tosar).
There’s considerable suspense and the movie proceeds at a fast pace.
True to its prison setting, there’s brutal violence including the slashing of throats and beating of people to pulp.
We were greatly delighted that we couldn’t easily see which way things would go. After all, unpredictability is one of the great joys of a movie.
Events in prison are often dictated by events outside the high walls.
Soon Juan is compelled by external circumstances into another drastic move dramatically altering his situation.
Prison is a harsh place and many of the inmates, hardened criminals, have turned into feral beasts. Violence, corruption and betrayal are the rules of this lawless jungle.
But the prison authorities are no different, often using excessive force even against outsiders.
Both Alberto Ammann and Luis Tosar turn in superb performances that won them Goya Awards.
Jorge Guerricaechevarría and director Daniel Monzón have jointly written the screenplay of this fine thriller.
The camera work is remarkably effective, particularly in some of the closeups of Juan highlighting first his fear, then his torment and toward the end his tremendous anger.
SearchIndia.com strongly recommends Cell 211. The film is available on DVD (with English subtitles) at Netflix.