With today’s social issues of prison overcrowding and violence, it is refreshing to see a film willing to tackle this subject with such a dark, realistic tone. Featuring a deft performance by Game of Throne’s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Ric Roman Waugh’s Shot Caller is the story of Jacob, an ordinary family man who accidentally kills a friend in a DUI accident. He is sent to prison as a result, and it is there he must undergo a transformation of body and spirit or die.
Jacob soon finds himself caught in a prison system that is overcrowded, corrupt, and fueled by gang violence. He joins a white supremacy gang out of sheer survival, but he soon learns that gang allegiances don’t just end when you get out of prison. In the outside world, he is forced to participate in a gun running scheme that may put not only his freedom in danger, but also risks the lives of his wife and son.
The plot of Shot Caller toggles back and forth between Jacob’s initial jail sentence and a modern day gun running story line. Jacob’s transformation is an astonishing one and is well-portrayed by Coster-Waldau, who rises to the occasion. The supporting actors do a fine job as well, most notably a terrifying Holt McCallany as the prison gang leader.
The film is shot with a deft hand and the prison scenes are gritty, realistic, and bleak. They help create a world where we can envision a man turning from businessman to felon. Where the film falls short is in the first half, where the setup feels long and drawn out, and a less patient viewer might be lost or bored. The second half of the film more than makes up for it, however, and it features a twist that makes Shot Caller well worth the viewing.