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Cell 211 movie review

Updated on November 5, 2016

This is my review on the spanish prison film Cell 211.

Cell 211 (2009)


Malamadre - Luis Tosar

Juan - Alberto Ammann

Utrilla - Antonio Resines

Elena - Marta Etura

Apache - Carlos Bardem

Almansa - Manuel Moron

Releches - Luis Zahera

Tachuela - Vicente Romero


Daniel Monzon


Prison film

The plot:

A young man named Juan goes to his first day of work as a prison guard when an inmate unexpectedly leads a prison riot. Chaos breaks out as prisoners dismantle law and order, taking over the prison to form their own rules. Juan is caught in the outbreak and is forced to disguise himself as a prisoner. He must overcome the obstacles and not panic under pressure if he is to make it out alive.



Juan Oliver - The main character of the film. He's clever and gradually becomes assertive. He uses his fear as a motivation to apply his ingenious thinking. He understands the needs and wants of others, using them to his advantage. Very quickly, he plays the roles of several different characters. Nevertheless, he cares mostly about his wife Elena.


She cares deeply about her husband and hopes to build a future alongside Juan with the upcoming birth of their child. She's supportive of his career and his goals. She is quick to take action when she senses danger.



Malamadre is the most dominant, violent, and ruthless leader of the prison. He takes full command of the prisoners and disciplines them in his own way. He also has respect for his fellow inmates and advocates for them. He often times makes rash decisions which are often corrected by Juan, his right hand. Malamadre recognizes Juan's value and so gives him important tasks.

Utrilla (right)
Utrilla (right)


One of the Chief Executives in the police force. He often breaks police laws and ethics if it means stopping the prison riot. He has no remorse for his actions nor is concerned with the consequences. Whether he is loyal to Juan or not is featured in the film.



One of Malamadre's trusted henchmen. He is concerned with carrying out his orders being in the chain of command. Apache is a sly conman and plays the antagonist to Juan. Tension between the two grows as Apache questions Juan's intentions.

The film reflects the issues of inhumane treatment of prisoners in today's world. Today like any other period - prisoners are abused by guards and neglected. Many are stigmatized in society despite being reformed. After being released from prison - They can expect to be banned from getting a stable job again and branded as criminals to be ostracized. The purpose of the prison system ought to serve as a method of reforming prisoners to walk among society once again, but it has never reached that point. Criminals are stereotyped as heartless, cold, incapable of having compassion. It is in our society that criminals ought to be punished harshly for all the evils they've done. Police in our society are presented as our heroes and protectors but few are aware of what they do behind bars. The film presents a rather realistic environment from the eyes of prisoners and prison guards. It unmasks the problems of police corruption and reveals an unbiased view of prisoners. While the crimes committed by prisoners are inexcusable, the government isn't entirely spotless either. When examining the values of freedom and justice, the film makes you question who the real monsters are. The criminals who committed atrocities against other humans or the government who lies to the people it's sworn to protect?


The film's pace of events flowed very smoothly. It wasted no time in developing the plot. The story begins with introducing the main characters and gradually reveals important plot information on Juan's backstory. There was a balance in violence, dramatic dialogue, and romance. The director revealed some of the plot's pre-history, leaving it up to the viewer's imagination as to what happened. As for the plot, the director realistically portrays it as it would happen in real life.


The film excellently co-ordinates between tracking shots, high angle shots, zoom angles, and lighting. Each technique blends in with the environment and the perspective of the characters. The prison is essentially the only setting that the plot takes place, saving more time in developing the main characters. The natural lighting blended with the dark areas adds to the despair and desperation within the prison walls.

The Script:

The script was unpredictable and dramatic in exciting ways. Each character's choice of words is credible. I found it very interesting how Juan gradually merges with the personality he disguises himself with. The pauses between the prisoners and Juan build up unpredictable suspenseful anticipation. Juan's dialogue between the prisoners and those in the outside world bridges the gap of understanding. As the plot progresses, emotions become powerful and tensions rise as Juan needs to be persuasive.


Each scene flowed smoothly and naturally. There was no need for CGI or highly advanced film techniques. There was no need for special effects. The natural lighting, setting, and characters added to the realism of the severity of the prison riot. Sometimes the best special effect is the human expression to create believable dialogue.

Costume design:

The choice of costumes for the set was very appropriate. The simple ragged and dirty clothing worn by the prisoners is a characteristic to prisons in Spain. The police uniforms were very professionally made partially because the actors wore them with authority.

Carabanchel prison in Spain.
Carabanchel prison in Spain.

Set design:

The setting was a reflection of Spanish prisons. The gloomy enclosed environment creates feelings of hopelessness, nervousness, and anarchy. It only added to the experience as the prison was surrounded by the police so there was no way for prisoners to progress beyond the walls.


What i found most appealing was that the soundtrack was rarely used in the film. The director relied on building up the film's pure intensity.

The acting:

The acting was very dramatically powerful. I completely forgot that the characters were mere actors in a movie. For example, when Jaun loses his loved one - he loses everything and you could feel it. Juan bursts into tears and everyone reacts in sorrow. There was no need to amplify the emotional trauma by other techniques. It was such a powerful scene built up by tension and impacted by betrayal.

The story:

I loved how very well the plot was uniquely developed. The opening scene starts with the prisoner in Cell 211 committing suicide, which will be important later on. Rather than introduce every character at the beginning, they are revealed in fragmentary knowledge. The rising action builds up with intensity as the antagonists and protagonists collide. The trust between Juan and everyone in the story is very vital to his survival. He is forced to both trust the protagonists and gain the antagonists trust, a conflict not many films can execute well. Juan has conflicts with Malamadre over leadership, the protagonists who constantly lie to him in tough situations, and other prisoners suspecting him of fraud. The climax of the story arrives when we hear that the police plan on invading the prison. The falling action of the story delves into Juan losing everything and falling in despair. We see his entire hope for living and achieving his ultimate goal shatter in pieces. He takes the chance to commit suicide but fate takes that away from him. He has no family to go back to. He has completely lost his willpower to survive and overcome his conflicts. The story takes such a dramatic and tragic ending as we see his character change into an antagonist. Now, he ends up defending the prisoners rather than working against them. The resolution was that he chose to struggle with those the government hated than to side with his traitors. Overall, the plot was developed in such a way that there was no resolution. Trauma, loss, and crime corrupted Juan's character. Even if he survived, he would be branded a criminal like the rest. This was the great tragedy - there was no hope of salvation for the main character. This is what makes Cell 211 such a wonderfully made masterpiece.


In summary, Cell 211 grotesquely depicts the cruel treatment of the prisoners at the hands of the government. I can find no fault in this movie, thus i urge you to buy it. A movie full of dramatic storyline development, suspense, and graphic violence is worth your money.

5 stars for Cell 211


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