Review: Shot Caller (2017)

Shot Caller (2017)

Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh | 120 minutes | crime, drama | Actors: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Omari Hardwick, Lake Bell, Jon Bernthal, Emory Cohen, Jeffrey Donovan, Evan Jones, Juan Pablo Raba, Matt Gerald, Max Greenfield, Jessy Schram, Chris Browning, Michael Landes, Jonathon McClendon, Benjamin Bratt, Holt McCallany, Mark Sivertsen, Cru Ennis, Keith Jardine

With ‘Shot Caller’, director Ric Roman Waugh makes another film about a father who, more or less by bad luck, ends up in a situation where he has to sacrifice his own integrity to survive.

In ‘Felon’ (2008), Wade accidentally kills a burglar to protect his wife and their young son. He is convicted of manslaughter and then has to stand his ground among the tough guys in prison. In ‘Snitch’ (2013), the son of John (Dwayne Johnson) is sentenced to ten years in prison when he is caught with a package of drugs that he has in custody for an old acquaintance. To reduce the jail time, John strikes a deal with the government; he goes undercover to expose a drug dealer. Also in ‘Shot Caller’ we see how a father transforms from family man to hard criminal.

Jacob (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known as Jamie Lannister from ‘Game of Thrones’) is happily married to Kate (Lake Bell). They have a son together and he has a good job on Wall Street. When Jacob causes an accident and is prosecuted for wrongful death, he ends up in jail. He faces a seven-year sentence, but it is clear from day one that Jacob has a choice to make. He learns that prison “forces you to become a fighter or a victim.”

The film opens with an ominous shot of a cell block, after which we see several close-ups and detail shots of the maximum-security prison in which Jacob ended up. He has since been renamed Money and is covered in tattoos, with a mustache and hair slicked back. All this accompanied by dark, threatening music. It is just a little too thick on top that this is not a happy story.

‘Shot Caller’ then tells how Jacob eventually turns into Money. The film cuts between the time before the accident and the time after, from the moment he is in prison. In exchange for the group’s protection, Jacob joins a gang from whom he receives orders. It starts with smuggling small products, but in no time we see Money stabbing and killing another prisoner. This transformation is strongly acted by the Danish actor Coster-Waldau. He convincingly knows how to portray both the decent family man and the seasoned criminal. He carries the film with verve.

Waugh takes a critical look at the American justice and prison system, where bad luck and the regime end up on the wrong side of the law. After his previous films, this isn’t very original, but ‘Shot Caller’ is a well-maintained and entertaining prison drama.

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