Ric Roman Waugh, who was behind the underrated drama Snitch, returns with Shot Caller – a well-structured endeavour that moves freely between flashbacks and the present day, seamlessly interwoven to help tell this complex story. But while the set-up is great, it’s the pay-off that lets this title down, growing somewhat convoluted as we progress, and moving too far away from the endearing simplicity that helped to set the scene.
Initially, the narrative is that of a prisoner striving to reconnect with his family upon his release – at least that’s what it seemed to be. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Jacob, imprisoned for manslaughter having been at the wheel of a car during an accident, which killed his colleague in the backseat. His wife Kate (Lake Bell) was left devastated as her husband was put away for several years, having to raise their young son on her own. While incarcerated, Jacob appreciated he needed to adjust to prison life or face a torrid time, and in doing so he found himself rising up through the ranks, becoming known as ‘Money’, overseeing dark and dangerous endeavours from inside. When he comes out he has two choices – will he revert back to becoming the family man he prided himself on? Or will he pursue the life of crime, and see through a job he had kickstarted behind bars?
We meet Jacob before discovering what crime he committed which puts us in an interesting position, for we instantly fear him – and judge him for being a prisoner. But as we progress we humanise him effectively, learning that the crime he committed was an accident that could happen to any of us. This is emblematic of a film that likes to play with the audience’s perceptions, with a protagonist who has even more faces than Jamie Lannister. Unsurprisingly, this brings out a strong performance by Coster-Waldau, as while physically he changes between the present day and flashbacks prior to the crime taking place, that’s not the only change to his demeanour, as it’s so much than merely his haircut; it’s in his eyes, as though he lost any shred of compassion during his time in jail, now so vacant, seemingly capable of anything.
But the role is too difficult to emotionally invest in and root for, and his whole journey feels overstated and to be frank, just difficult to believe in. It’s that sense of absurdity that proves to be detrimental, for while Shot Caller certainly has all the makings of a compelling thriller, the attempt to cover too much ground coupled with the fact we are constantly questioning the motives of the lead, ultimately makes for a frustrating cinematic experience.
Shot Caller is released on December 15th.