Shot Caller

2017-10-13 15:18

What it's about:

A successful businessman is sent to prison for culpable homicide after being involved in a drunk-driving accident that ended up with his best friend dead. Sent to a maximum-security prison, he is left with no choice but to join a white-supremacist gang in order to stay alive; a decision that leads him down a dark road from which he will never be able to return.

What we thought:

Pitched somewhere between a tense prison-thriller and a serious, character-driven drama about the horrific effects of the American penal system, Shot Caller may boast strong performances, moments of real tension and a (potentially) interesting story of a good – if yuppy-ish – man going very, very bad but it' inability to find a balance between its two sides makes for a frustrating and not particularly enjoyable near-miss.

Game of Thrones' Nicolaj Coster-Waldau is quite excellent in the main role; effectively portraying a man whose life is slowly destroyed by one terrible mistake and whose transformation from decent white-collar worker into fearsome criminal convinces despite an increasingly absurd script doing everything it can to undermine him. He is surrounded by similarly solid performances and a film that is basically efficiently put together with enough grit and toughness to make up for some of its more generic tendencies.

The problem, really, is that somewhere between his script and direction, Ric Roman Waugh – who has by now made something of a career out of macho, prison-set drama/thrillers – struggles to tell a story that works either as a tense thriller or as a convincing drama. 

As a drama there are moments of truth and heartfelt honesty but they are constantly undercut by a thriller narrative that gets increasingly ridiculous as it goes along. Things start off pretty well as much of the first half is dedicated to a slow reveal of the things that turn this fairly successful but basically ordinary guy into the most badass of badass criminals – and it largely convinces. Unfortunately, once it gets past this quite compelling examination of what the American prison system can do to a person, it very quickly becomes an increasingly silly thriller that doesn't exactly convince on its own but feels particularly wonky as a followup to such a relatively grounded opening. 

On the other hand, there are moments of real tension in both the halves of the film and if you're a fan of purposefully “manly” cinema then its endless displays of manly men doing manly things in just enough clothes to show off their  manly physiques without becoming another Magic Mike sequel, Shot Caller should more than satisfy. And yet, it remains impossible to ever really throw yourself into the film's pulpier, trashier aspects. For one, they kick in way too late after a much slower and more deliberate first hour and, more crucially, the film's tone is way too dour and self-serious to ever really enjoy in that manner. “Humourless” doesn't even begin to describe just how po-faced the film is. 

All of this adds up to a film that will have bits and pieces that will work for different audiences but as a whole, it's bound to leave pretty much everyone unsatisfied. 

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