Review by Mark Merrel
A man is married. He has a child, and a successful career. In an instant, his life, along with the lives of his family and friends changes forever in the intense action thriller, Shot Caller.
Californian Jacob Harlon (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Game of Thrones, Mama, Oblivion, Headhunters) is doing very well. He has a good job. He has friends, and most importantly, family. His wife, Kate (Lake Bell, In A World, What Happens In Vegas, No Strings Attached, Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Latter) is going to college to become and architect. His young child, Joshua (Derek Dinniene, The Mentalist) loves his dad.
Jacob and Kate are out on a double date with friends. The couples go to eat, and have a few drinks. On the way home, Jacob misses a red light, and smashes into a other car. In the tragic accident, the life of Jacob’s buddy is lost. Facing a longer mandatory sentence, he pleads out guilty, hoping to shorten his time behind bars.
Before heading into prison, Jacob gets some advice. He can either be the warrior or the pray. After witnessing the horrific attack of a other prisoner just hours after entering, Jacob decides to fight.
Told in a series of flashbacks, we see how Jacobs life evolves from a happy go lucky businessman into a badass prisoner, revealing secret motives for him along the way. The movie opens as Jacob is released on parole. He connects up with a former prisoner, Shotgun (Jon Bernthal, The Wolf Of Wall Street, The Ghost Rider, Fury) along with some gang members. They are planing to commit a crime together. Those in the gang include a war veteran out of Afghanistan, Howie (Emory Cohen, Brooklyn, War Machine, The Place Beyond The Pines), and Chopper (Evan Jones, 8 Mile, The Book of Eli, Guardians If The Galaxy). The police are trying to take Jacob and the gang down. Among those are officers Kutcher (Omari Hardwick, Power, The A-Team, The Guardian), and Sanchez (Benjamin Bratt, Dr Strange, Miss Congeniality, Law & Order).
Shot Caller is written and directed by, Ric Roman Waugh (Felon, Snitch, That Which I Love Destroys Me). In this film he brings us a very stark and realistic look from the side of prisoners serving time, as well as officers and guards. This came first hand for Waugh, as he spent time undercover. “In order to get a real world grasp of prison and the gangs that run these institutions and the streets, I went undercover as a volunteer with Parole for the CDCR (California Department of Corrections), Waugh said. “What started out as a simple research became a two year odyssey as doors kept opening, allowing me more and more access into this secretive violent world. No one knew I was a filmmaker. They just saw me as a rookie cop, so nothing was censored,” Waugh explained. “I met many high level prison gangsters, who at first started out as small petty criminals, or had made a simple mistake sending them to prison. Inside is where they learned from, “Shot Callers,” how to become uber criminals capable of extreme violence. Some relished their newfound power. Others did it purely to survive.”
Drawing from this experience, Waugh, through the film’s characters, gives you a true sense of what it’s like to not only face the prospect of prison, but how to survive, and what happens when you are released. This is just part of the story that is, Shot Caller, as events unfold for it’s primary person, Jacob Harlon once he is given his freedom in the form of a parole.
Costner-Waldau’s portrayal of Jacob Harlon is beyond remarkable. Completely believable as both an account executive, and a hardened criminal surviving life in prison, he carries his wife and child with him in his heart and soul. Omari Hardwick was perfect as officer Kutcher. He reminded me a lot of a tougher Phillip Michael Thomas from his character in Miami Vice as Detective Tubbs. Adding to that feel is Benjamin Bratt as Sanchez. Lake Bell as Kate, along with Jon Bernthal (Shotgun) and Emery Cohen (Howie) were standouts, as was Evan Jones as Chopper. All that said, Jeffrey Donovan knocked it out of the park playing the ultra-creepy, character, Bottles. Without a lot of screen time, he made good use of it, holding the moments very well on camera.
An excellent, exciting, captivating, and thriller movie, Shot Caller is definitely a must see film.