Opinions vary on when the best prison movies came out, but there’s definitely been a lack of decent ones in the past few years. Maybe there’s not much of a need for them these days as we can get our fix of the genre from the Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black. But that’s all changing on August 18. Ric Roman Waugh’s latest feature, SHOT CALLER, reunites the big house with the big screen, offering a limited theatrical engagement (check your local listings). Also available on VOD at that time, the film stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones), Lake Bell (In A World, Children’s Hospital), Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead), and Omari Hardwick (Power).
Although the story follows a recently released prisoner, Jacob, aka Money (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Ric Roman Waugh’s screenplay presents a disturbing look at convict culture and its immediate and long-term effects on inmates. While SHOT CALLER includes some standard and expected prison tropes, there are many original elements that give audiences a little something different to ponder and digest. Antonio Pinto’s score generates such a great sense of tension, I probably would’ve felt tense even without the images on screen. This effective use of score elevates so many of the film’s scenes and serves to enhance the viewer’s response.
In addition to the wonderful score, the film presents a believable backstory to explain the initial incarceration of a pretty average guy. So often it seems writers focus so much on the climax of the story, that they fail to adequately craft a believable origin. It tends to come across as an afterthought. However, SHOT CALLER presents one of the best, most plausible explanations as to how any non-hardened criminal might end up in a maximum security prison.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau effectively transitions not just physically, but emotionally as events occur and unfold. However, his transition becomes the biggest problem with the film. While I accept that circumstances can change people, and the worse the circumstances, the more dramatic those changes may be, I had real issues with the lightning speed with which Jacob evolved into Money. Much like Breaking Bad’s Walter White (played brilliantly by Bryan Cranston), Jacob dealt with circumstances that had a profound impact on who he became. However, Walter White’s evolution occurred somewhat gradually over time, with key events forcing additional shifts until he became almost unrecognizable. Jacob’s transition to Money felt jarring, and I didn’t feel that there were adequate onscreen moments to justify the speed with which he changed so dramatically. While reasons were given, and dramatic events occurred to explain the transition, it wasn’t enough. I wanted either more moments of internal strife, more extreme events to catapult him to a different emotional state, or a more developed backstory that could have lended itself to the notion that this man had a predisposition to become the man he eventually does. The lack of any of these made this a difficult scenario to believe.
Overall, SHOT CALLER is a good movie, and may potentially result in interesting dialogues about the judicial system, rehabilitation, Nicolaj’s facial hair, etc. If you miss prison movies on the big screen, this one’s definitely a good one to check out.