MOVIE: SHOT CALLER
STARRING: NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU; LAKE BELL; JON BERNTHAL; OMARI HARDWICK
DIRECTED BY: RIC ROMAN WAUGH
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The award for “worst timed release of the year” has to go to Shot Caller, the new movie from director Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch). Only a week removed from Nazis and White Supremacists marching and causing violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, arrives a violent drama about Jacob AKA Money (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a man who becomes imprisoned for a DUI manslaughter and quickly reverts to becoming a tattooed Nazi gang member in prison. He does what it takes to survive amongst the nastiness of scum in the state penitentiary. It's not in any way the worst thing you will see this year, frankly it's a relevant story now, but it's also impossible to root for anyone in this movie. What is impressive however, is a strong turn from Coster-Waldau who buffs up and shows he has more range to offer than just his Game of Thrones work.
Surprisingly, Shot Caller is not as inept at telling the story as one would think. We see Jacob in his incarcerated beginning, writing a letter to his son from his cell. He tells him to leave his father behind and forget that he even existed. We then get a nice balance of going back and forth between the time when Jacob was a clean cut family man, engaging in the art of shanking fellow prisoners, and leading to his parole release. What was hard for me to wrap my head around, was how Jacob turns quickly from loving father to someone who has “white pride” inked across his back, but as the movie portrays, the pressure from other cellmates makes it hard for Jacob to not choose gang life over death. However, he has a plan to make sure his family is taken care of.
The other side of the law is parole officer Kutcher (Omari Hardwick) and his partner Sanchez (Benjamin Bratt), who both keep an eye on Jacob and his partner Shotgun (Jon Bernthal a fellow violent offender) once their on the outside. The plan is to meet with former marine Howie (Emory Cohen of Brooklyn fame) who's returned from Afghanistan with a shipment of weapons to make a deal with one of their rival gangs. The officers know something is up, and while the stakes are always fragile, Jacob methodically plans to flip the scenario around on everyone. His survival instincts have put him in a position to be a leader, but none of these people can be trusted.
That lack of a true hero is one of the many problems with Shot Caller. I found nearly every character to be repugnant. Lake Bell delivers a strong performance as the patiently grieving wife, which makes her and the son as the only characters we truly care for. Director/writer Ric Roman Waugh has at least been consistent with his storytelling. Two of his previous films, Felon and Snitch, both were about fathers being in prison to learn their life lessons. What Waugh does understand is the prison atmosphere, which is often scary you will be sure to stay on the straight and narrow path. Each character has a unique kind of facial hair (you need to see the mustaches in this movie!) or specific tattoo for an authentic look, while sequences of prison yard brawls will shock you. It makes an episode of Lockup seem tame.
The ultimate lesson is that prison is a place where nobody wants to be. Shot Caller is often violent, but has a stellar cast that raises material above a level of qualified. Almost all of the praise goes to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, balancing his performance with enough of a serious nature to make it work. I hope this proves that he deserves a chance to work in more mainstream movies, where he can be the one to call the shots.
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady