A twisty bruiser of a prison drama, Daniel Monzón’s “Cell 211” (Celda 211) was Spain’s entry for this year’s best foreign language film and swept its home country’s Goyas, with eight bests, including film, director, adapted script and best actor for Luis Tosar. The premise kicks in almost immediately: a rookie guard (Alberto Ammann), caught in a penitentiary riot, has to pass himself off as a new prisoner to avoid the worst of fates, and a seasoned inmate (the charismatic Tosar) takes him under his protection. Clock-ticking buddy drama ensues in the midst of Basque ETA terrorists, Colombian drug dealers and other baddies. Political crises and media uproar quickly follow. The duo is dynamic amid a boldly caricatured prison population, and you root for the paired “good guy” and “bad guy” as the other moral lesson to play out is what it takes to survive. Carles Gusi’s cinematography helps sandpaper familiar particulars in the gratifyingly tense plotting. With Carlos Bardem, Antonio Resines, Marta Etura, Manolo Solo, Jesús Carroza, Luis Zahera, Félix Cubero, Manuel Morón, Joxean Bengoetxea. 109m. (Ray Pride)
“Cell 211” opens Friday at Facets. A trailer is embedded below.