Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh
Starring: Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Jon Bernthal and Holt McCallany
A prison drama commanded by the lead performance by Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, in the kind of role I don’t think we’ve ever seen from him. It’s a transforming performance most actors get maybe once in a career, and he sinks into every bit of it. Add in the experienced crime-drama cred of Snitch and Felon director Ric Roman Waugh, and Shot Caller is a solid little indie worth seeking out on Amazon Prime.
Coster-Waldau plays Jacob Harlan, an ordinary family man with a wife (Lake Bell) and son. One night while out on the town with some friends, Jacob has one too many and gets into a car accident that kills his friend (Max Greenfield). Jacob accepts his fate and goes to prison for a shortened sentence. Now alongside other maximum security murders he does whatever it takes to get back to his family. Which means the white-collar businessman needs to find friends, protection, and a new persona altogether. His transformation from innocent newbie to hardened soldier nicknamed Money is a believable one. It starts with simple assault to gain cred; then once recruited into a group of Aryans his crimes mount by degrees: drugs, intimidation, and finally murder.
The film does a good job of showing how someone like Jacob can become addicted to such a radical change in lifestyle. Jacob was a clean nosed powerful figure in the business world but there’s power to be had within the prison walls, too. Waugh’s screenplay helps us piece Jacob’s logic together through flashbacks to his early days behind bars contrasted with his latter activities as a boss running guns alongside a shady crew that may or may not have his back. There are compromises Jacob makes that the old him would be horrified by, but make perfect sense in the kill-or-be-killed world he’s willingly become a part of as Money.
The evolution is pretty fascinating, and Coster-Waldau gives the finest performance of his career outside of Westeros. He’s surrounded by strong supporting performances by actors who make the most of limited screen time. Jon Bernthal as a member of Jacob’s street crew has become an absolute favorite of mine right now in Hollywood. He of course doesn’t disappoint in this film either. Omari Hardwicke of Power fame over-does his tough-guy act as Jacob’s hard-ass parole officer. Also, you’ll scarcely recognize Holt McCallany as the appropriately named Beast, the gang’s monstrous enforcer.
This is one of those movies that as the story is told you keep telling yourself “I can’t believe that’s how that happened?!?” As it moves along you’re more and more invested, which is the perfect way to tell a story. There’s nothing special about the prison or gang related activities or running from the cops in this movie. It’s the background to the crazy tale of Jacob and his complete 180 of lifestyle and man that he becomes.
This movie came out back in August and I was late to checking it out but if you haven’t done so, I recommend checking it out as well!
7.5 out of 10