With a title like ‘Shot Caller’ the film makers must be hoping that there are no typographical errors when the review’s are out but after the gleeful almost comically shocking violence of Brawl in Cell Block 99 we have another prison film that follows in its fearsome footsteps.
Different in narrative structure the starts with Jacob (Nikolaj Coster – Waldau) coming out of his cell where he’s been kept in solitary confinement. Covered in gang tattoos and ripped with muscles he writes a farewell letter to his son before finally being released on parole with strict probation rules before the film flips back some years where Frank is a wholly different person, no Mexican moustache, no tatts just a middle class guy getting ready to go out for a meal with his wife and another couple. Their evening goes well until, having been distracted by their conversation he has a fatal car accident that kills the husband of the other couple. With this being released just before Christmas it’s a timely reminder about the dangers of drink driving and Frank having been found guilty finds himself imprisoned and from here the film follows his moral decline.
Having been warned that prison is a place of either warriors or victims (the film refuses to acknowledge any middle ground) and his well groomed, white, middle class appearance firmly puts him in the victim category and knowing his time inside is going to be pretty grim if he allows that to happen he sets out to be a warrior in full view of the prison gangs in the yard notably a chillingly calm bespectacled gang leader with slick backed hair who takes him under his wing. Jacob’s moral decline is assured.
Writer director Ric Roman Waugh, has made a film about corrupting influence and how prison doesn’t really reform with the violence here only too credible and a brutal brawl in the yard is shocking. It’s the moment of no return for Frank as his sentence is lengthened and he decides to climb the ranks of the gang rather than behave.
Just about very character is on a road to ruin with Frank the latest and even the teenager who the gang assign to take are of him on parole seems keen to follow in his footsteps. Throughout the film the narrative flits back and fore with Frank’s release from prison as he does his best to evade his probation officer in order that he can carry out some gun running uninterrupted whilst cutting back to his incarceration as he scrabbles and stabs and slashes his way up the ranks.
Waugh, whose back ground as a stuntman on films like Lethal Weapon 2, Total Recall, Last Action Hero, serves him well as he puts together some striking images notably the lone prisoners locked in cages in the yard prowling around inside them like caged animals looking to pounce and the film is unflinching in its depiction of violence. The Penal system is an obvious draw for the writer / director having made several films with not dissimilar theme in the past including ‘Felon’ & ‘Snitch’.
Perhaps what is lacks in credibility is the utter corruption of Jacob where he’s essentially he transformed into an almost unrecognisable shadow of his former self with the film keen to point out that one mistake can ruin a life but this takes it to extremes.
Here’s the trailer……..