Shot Caller

Studio: Saban Films / Lionsgate
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

Aug 21, 2017 Web Exclusive
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After one reckless error in judgment, a slick Wall Street trader falls headlong into a seedy, prison gang underworld. Though Jacob Harlon (who you’ll likely know as Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones) had a posh life on the outside, he steps into prison swinging, knocking down a tough looking inmate and slowly building camaraderie with powerful convicts like Frank “Shotgun” (Jon Bernthal of Netflix’s The Punisher) and “Bottles” (Jeffrey Donovan, who played Dodd Gerhardt on the second season of FX’s Fargo). The film flashes back and forward, and we see Harlon — who is given the nickname “Money” during his time behind bars — rise in the outlaw ranks and give “Shotgun” orders. But just because he’s out, that doesn’t mean it’s safe for Harlon to reconnect with his now-grown son. That’s because the same penitentiary politics have followed Harlon on to his parole, and it doesn’t take long for the audience to realize that the time he’s served won’t settle his debt to society.

Yes, like its protagonist, Shot Caller is modest with admirable ambitions. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Harlon as a soft spoken, hard bodied ex-con with his intent gaze fixed on survival and redemption. His character shows a quick wit and endless resourcefulness, adapting to life behind bars and on parole with breathless deftness. The fact that he, and costars Bejamin Bratt and Omari Hardwick (who plays the cops aiming to bring these tattooed parolees down) all sport the most ridiculously phony looking facial hair in cinematic history is a mild, but amusing distraction in a film otherwise without a glint of levity. Sturdy as Coster-Waldau’s turn is, Bernthal is far more convincing as the rugged, more assertive shotgun, flexing his brawn and shooting off his mouth with vivid flair that feels lived in.

Shot Caller’s true star of however, is director Ric Roman Waugh. Here, the helmer of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson-starring crime thriller Snitch and Val Kilmer-led prison drama Felon shoots the action with as much lean brawn as the actors onscreen. His construction of an intricate prison world, where unmeasured power is wielded by seemingly lowly inmates in solitary confinement, is fascinating, if not far fetched. Same goes for Coster-Waldau’s transformation, which is imminently watchable but tough to buy entirely, in part because of the briskness of a plot that leaves little breath for character development. In the end, the film feels akin to a Sons of Anarchy episode without that series’ melodrama, depicting an unrealistic, thoroughly macho plot with grounded visuals and performances.

Author rating: 7/10

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