Film Review: Shot Caller

Shot Caller is an intense character and criminality drama from Ric Roman Waugh. The powerfully grim piece follows the inevitable path of a good man as he goes bad — but what damn choice did he have?

Featuring a cast of serious blokes, ugly violence and a creeping sense of danger and doom, it’s still a fairly modest offering that could well slip through the cracks, although diehard fans of Game Of Thrones will surely be rushing out to catch this one as that cult show’s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is the star and in very fine form, even if he is sporting a formidable walrus mustache.

Coster-Waldau’s Jacob is released from many years in a maximum security prison (it can’t be a good sign that he’s in cell number 13) and welcomed by Frank (or ‘Shotgun’, and played by Jon Bernthal, a.k.a. Netflix’s Punisher), who promises him anything he wants for the terrible things he did in jail. We then cut back and forth from flashbacks depicting Jacob’s former domestic life in Pasadena, California, with his wife Kate (Lake Bell) and young son, as well as his work as a fairly virtuous stockbroker. And we watch as one little mistake ruins his life.

Forced into serving at least 30 months in prison, Jacob is horrified by life inside and immediately starts to toughen up, and eventually he meets Shotgun and falls in with the Aryan Brotherhood as headed by the much-feared ‘Bottles’ (a very scary Jeffery Donovan). Soon he’s running drugs and becoming more and more violent in his attempts to be protected, but outside he’s shown to be increasingly exposed and at risk, as gunmen keep coming for him and he can’t trust anyone.

The cops on his trail, including the also-haunted Kutcher (Omari Hardwick), all think they can apprehend him before something terrible occurs, but it’s too late and the worst happened long ago, with Jacob (or ‘Money’) having already become a monster. But, again, it was always going to happen, and Coster-Waldau’s performance ensures that we uncomfortably see the ruined man behind it all.

With an odd title that turns out to be bitterly ironic (Jacob wants to be a ‘shot caller’ like Bottles or the even nastier ‘Beast’, as played by Holt McCallany, but when he is, it destroys him), this is, again, a smallish film that could well get lost in the commercial crush — or seem a hard sell for those seeking something light and dopey for the silly season.

Rated MA. Shot Caller is in cinemas now.

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