Cell 211

Year: 2009
Studio: Canal+Espana
Director: Daniel Monzon
Writer: Daniel Monzon
Cast: Alberto Ammann, Luis Tosar

This movie showed great promise, and the simple concept is one I'm sure some enterprising producer is hoping to reshoot for the American market for $10-15m right now (as soon as I wrote that I went and checked and yes, Paul Haggis is writing and directing for CBS Films).

It's the story of prison guard Juan (Ammann) who conscientiously shows up a day early to learn the ropes with his new colleagues. The crumbling facility sees a piece of ceiling plaster fall on his head and the guys showing him around take him to an empty cell to rest while he passes out.

At the same time a prison riot breaks out led by the fearsome Malamadre (Tosar), a madman who's in for so long he's got nothing to lose. They drag Juan out of his cell while the prisoners run amok inside and a bit of quick thinking (and ditching his personal effects down the toilet) has him convincing them he's a new inmate rather than a guard, something they'll kill him for if they find out.

While the authorities outside have the place in lockdown and try to figure out a way of getting inside or using the novice guard's deception to their advantage, Juan works his way into Malamadre's good graces and finds himself a leader of the violent resistance movement.

The set-up was great, but too many narrative problems bog things down and make it a bit of a mess. First is that the intense-eyed, bald, bearded villain falls for the ruse too quickly and loses some of his cachet as a villain. He could have been a mercurial figure for Juan as well as us, having us on the edge of our seat in fear as the hero tries to stay one step ahead of him finding out the truth.

He also doesn't have a very interesting agenda, finally drawing up a list of demands that amount to nothing more than better conditions for the inmates. A social conscience doesn't do his villain status any favours.

Third is Juan's pretty wife, who hears about the riot on the radio and drives straight to the prison, where family members of inmates and guards are staging a riot of their own as they demand to be let inside or told what's going on. I didn't believe in the public riot outside for a second, and it turned out to just be a cheap device to put Juan's wife in danger. It just made her seem like a 50s horror movie leading lady who goes down into the blacked out cellar where the swamp thing is waiting for her on her own.

It all ends on a series of bloody low notes, something that will be very different in Haggis' version if I know anything about Hollywood. In fact I've been too well trained by American movies – much of the final third made me feel sure the movie was setting me up for a bunch of 11th hour twists that would make everything all right.

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