(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)
Why I added it to my queue: Because this is yet another of the films I randomly heard about through Netflix's "New Releases" RSS feed, in this case a gritty Spanish prison drama that won eight Goyas the year it came out, and that sports a premise almost impossible to resist (a new guard on his pre-hire tour is accidentally left behind during a riot, and must pretend to be a prisoner to survive the chaotic next days).
The reality: Excelente! Although be aware that, like the similar A Prophet, this is as much a political movie as it is a crime thriller; in fact, the entire last half is primarily focused on how this guard witnesses first-hand the rampant corruption, brutality and inhumane conditions that plague southern Europe's rotting prison systems, which quickly devolves into the kind of hand-wringing melodrama and overly obvious platitudes that I'm sure is what won it so many freaking awards in the first place (including at one point, I kid you not, a shot of a young pregnant wife being beaten to death by cops in the street in front of news cameras, a moment whose sentimental manipulation I believe could only possibly be beat by literally dropping a piano on a flower-selling six-year-old deaf orphan girl with tuberculosis). The first half of this engaging movie, though, ranks right up there with shows like Oz as far as setting an ultra-realistic, ultra-threatening style and tone; and it's fascinating to watch the ways the main character lies and BSs his way through a dozen hairpin-trigger situations, rising in the informal ranks of the post-riot leadership scheme by essentially bluffing his way into psychotic badass status. Although it gets a little too sappy at the end for my own tastes, it's still an excellent choice for one and all, the exact kind of "transitional" title that's great for your American friends who are spooked by the idea of subtitled foreign indies. It comes strongly recommended.
Strangest piece of trivia: Paul Haggis is producing an American remake of this film, to be released in 2012.
Worth your time? Yes