Thursday, September 16, 2010

Movie: Cell 211 (U.S. 2010)

I heard the premise of this Spanish thriller and started salivating. “Yes. When can I see this? Is now possible?”

Juan Oliver, a young man with a pregnant wife, needs to make a good impression at his new job as a corrections officer. He shows up at the prison a day early for orientation and during his tour an accident knocks him out cold. He’s temporarily put in the title room. Seconds later a riot breaks out. When he comes to, the inmates are in charge. To survive, Juan must convince them he’s a new fish – and on their side.

Admit it. That’s genius.

Cell 211 is a little too slick at first, playing like the studio remake that is undoubtedly coming. It doesn’t help that Alberto Ammann, as Juan, is criminally handsome. But the script does a convincing job of explaining how Juan could so quickly become part of the inmates’ inner circle, led by Luis Tosar as the aptly named Malamadre. It’s also rich, weaving in material about Spanish politics (Malamadre has timed the takeover to coincide with the arrival of Basque terrorists held by the government), institutional corruption, and Juan’s wife on the outside. Yet for all that Cell 211 still moves, building up a hell of a head of steam and crashing through preconceived notions in time for a third act where you have no idea what’s going to happen next.

I’d missed the movie on the festival circuit but didn’t mind, because IFC picked it up and planned to show it on demand. Diligently, I checked their offerings every week. Cell 211 never showed up. One night I was goofing around with the remote and discovered a separate section of “IFC Midnight” movies. That’s where Cell 211 was hiding – but only for another day. I’d stumbled onto it just in time. The movie may still be available on some cable systems, is playing in a handful of theaters, and will be on DVD soon enough. Look for it.

Passings: Too Many, Too Close

I’ve been remiss in not acknowledging the deaths of several people of late.

Claude Chabrol was often described as the French Hitchcock, but over the course of his career his movies evolved into their own genre: dark comedies of manners about the correlation of means and morality.

Kevin McCarthy will always be remembered for his performance in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But he was one of the great character actors, his toothy bonhomie uniquely American, his presence improving everything he appeared in.

I never met bookstore owner and publisher David Thompson, but our paths crossed online frequently. I planned on introducing myself at Bouchercon next month. Now, sadly, I won’t have the chance.

Plus the Liberace Museum that was a high point of my last trip to Las Vegas will be closing its doors.