REVIEW: Shot Caller (2017)

Release Poster – Bold Films & Participant Media

The following is a short review of Shot Caller – Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

In Shot Caller, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Jacob “Money” Harlon, a former white collar worker, who we first meet as he is about to be released from prison. At first, Coster-Waldau looks nothing like you would expect him to; he has longish slicked-back hair and a handlebar mustache. He even has genuinely offensive tattoos all over his torso and arms. 

Although he eventually became a member of a dangerous white nationalist prison gang, Jacob Harlon was once a fairly normal husband and father. But when he gets in a traffic accident while intoxicated his life is upended, and he is swiftly sent away to prison. Now, out of prison, Jacob — or ‘Money’ as he is often called — tries to keep his family safe by being as far away from them as possible.

“The fact is we all started out as someones little angel… And then a place like this forces us to be either warriors or victims — nothing in between can exist here.”

You’re thrown into a completely different and alienating environment, and to survive and thrive in that environment you are forced to adapt and change your personality. Once you are let out of prison, you may have changed your personality to such a degree that a return to normalcy, fitting in, is not possible.

When you get involved with a group that offers you safety in return for despicable acts behind bars, there is no return to normalcy — not even after you’re released. What is freedom when a parole officer is breathing down your neck, while the people that you worked for in prison expect you to work even harder outside of it?

Life behind bars, freedom, and impossible rehabilitation — those are the topics and themes that Ric Roman Waugh’s Shot Caller deals with. It isn’t a very original movie, and you have likely seen something like it before. Heck, you’ve probably seen films and TV-shows that deal with topics like these even better than Shot Caller does. The film is also overlong, and it would definitely have worked even better as a mini-series, which would be in the vein of HBO’s The Night Of.

Shot Caller has a great supporting cast, which includes Emory Cohen (Brooklyn), Max Greenfield (New Girl), Jon Bernthal (The Punisher), and Lake Bell (In a World…). But make no mistake, this is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s movie. People think of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Game of Thrones-character as a heinous twist on the prototypical Prince Charming type of character, but in Shot Caller you get to see the handsome Dane get completely transformed.

And Coster-Waldau really is terrific in this film. It is probably the best performance I’ve seen him give in a film thus far, but I didn’t find it, or the film, as emotionally compelling as I thought I would. However, I was really impressed with the seemingly very realistic and harsh violence. But, make no mistake, Coster-Waldau’s performance is what sets this film apart from the pack of prison rehabilitation dramas.

7.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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