Shot Caller
dir-scr Ric Roman Waugh
prd Ric Roman Waugh, Jonathan King, Michel Litvak, Gary Michael Walters
with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Omari Hardwick, Jon Bernthal, Emory Cohen, Lake Bell, Benjamin Bratt, Jonathon McClendon, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Evan Jones, Matt Gerald, Max Greenfield
release US 18.Aug.17, UK 15.Dec.17
17/US 2h01
Shot Caller
Prison-yard buddies: Coster-Waldau and Bernthal

cohen bell bratt
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Shot Caller Kind of a blunt-force version of Jacques Audiard's 2009 classic A Prophet, this prison thriller adopts the theory that anyone who goes to jail either becomes a victim or a warrior, and there are no other options. There may be some truth in this idea, but writer-director Ric Roman Waugh has no time for complexity or nuance, pushing the actors into performances in which they merely try to out-thug each other.

After a drunk-driving incident, Jacob (Coster-Waldau) is convicted of manslaughter and incarcerated. Adopted by a white supremacist gang, he's forced to commit such violent atrocities that his sentence is extended. So he cuts off contact with his wife (Bell) and son (McClendon) and goes native. When he is released a decade or so later, he is a man with a mission, dodging his aggressive parole officer (Hardwick) as he sets up a shady deal with former prison-mate Frank (Bernthal) and young Afghanistan veteran Howie (Cohen), orchestrated by the big boss (McCallany) who's inside for life.

The plot has several intriguing angles to it, told in a parallel structure using flashbacks to explore Jacob's prison odyssey alongside his actions after his release. Altogether, this is quite a saga, with twists and turns that carry a strong kick. But chopping them together like this leaves the emphasis on the violent action scenes, losing the darker dramatic moments and the more textured characters in the margins.

Coster-Waldau brings a thoughtful quality to Jacob, who transforms from high-flying financial analyst into a muscly, tattooed hoodlum his fellow inmates call Money. But the actor maintains his inner life even through the physical change, hinting from the start that he's up to something noble, even if it requires a lot of gruesome grisliness. Bell is also strong as the wife who simply refuses to give up on him, even when he tells her to. And while Hardwick and Bernthal are terrific as hard men, Cohen finds more texture in his offbeat role.

There's enough in this film to hold the interest, even with some nagging improbabilities (do parole officers actually orchestrate big-scale militarised midnight stings?). Although the real problem is the rampant machismo, which basically preaches the message that you have to be a vicious killer to survive either in prison or on the streets. Because according to this film, the system not only won't help you at all, it will push you over the brink.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs, nudity 23.Oct.17

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Shot Caller Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall