Shot Caller: more than another prison drama

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays magnificently a businessman turned hardened convict in the new Ric Roman Waugh film

Prison movies may not be news, but as a social issue they’re always relevant. American director-screenwriter Ric Roman Waugh has a fascination for the topic and, after Felon and Snitch, he returns to the big screen with his third prison movie, Shot Caller, starring danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

All Waugh’s works seem to have a central idea in common: once a man is institutionalized, he’s hardly redeemable.

In Shot Caller Waldau plays Jacob Harlon: at first we see a man who’s been released from prison for a period of probation, but we know very little about him and Waugh gives us only some clues (through flashbacks) about who this man was.

Soon we are told the whole story: Jacob was a wealthy businessman from Pasadena, who’s been arrested after a fatal car accident which caused the death of one of his best friends. Due to a series of events, Jacob’s original DUI charge gets worse, sending him to prison for far longer that he and his partner, Kate, had predicted. He’s forced to leave his wife and their son, Joshua, as he’s still a child.

Shot Caller is the story of how Jacob adjusts to a new difficult situation, his new life in a maximum-security facility, and of how this experience changes him through the years. Jacob realizes that the “old rules” don’t apply in prison: to survive he has to join a group of neo-Nazis that guarantees him protection in return for favors. Before he knows it, he finds himself involved in new dynamics which gradually transform him into a criminal.

Scene after scene we lose perception of what is good and what is bad, thanks to  Waugh’s vivid screenplay and Waldau’s impressive performance: the Game of Thrones star shows his versatile acting, marking a clear split between the docile citizen and the hopeless felon. As we’re getting emotional following Jacob’s story, we have to prepare for a surprising outcome.

Every piece in the movie falls in place, from prison realistic scenes to actors stunning performances: Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, Fury, The Accountant) is moving far beyond the TV show that made him famous, Emory Cohen (The OA, Brooklyn) is the “kid to watch” in Hollywood.

Shot Caller hit Italian theaters on Thursday and looks more like a compelling thriller than like a generic prison drama.

 

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