Movie Review: Shot Caller (2017)

Shot Caller possesses a worthy 7.4 IMDB rating and can be regarded as one of the best films of the year. It also received 74% on tomatometer. I was genuinely impressed with the quality of the movie, the script and directing are top class and the production is of the highest class. It is a film I am going to defend and protect from all the critics.

Shot caller is more of a crime thriller than drama. A white-collar businessman, Jacob ‘Money’ (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) gets into a car accident, while DUI, and kills his best friend. Sentenced to prison time, he must adapt to the rules and laws of prison life in order to survive. Throughout the movie, as we are exposed to his transformation from an ‘innocent’, ethical businessman to a genuinely intimidating warrior of the Aryan gang, we learn more and more about his motives and we understand his behaviour.

The film is gritty and real. It tells a story of an ordinary man put in extraordinary circumstances and how fear dictates his choices. Jacob’s character is relatable as he depicts a world of cold and calculated pragmatism in order to survive. Coster-Waldau, speaking to Thrillist Entertainment, gave an insight into the role: “it’s a world of fear, and that eats you up”.

Jacob’s story is not afraid to reveal a brutal truth about his circumstances – there is nothing pretty about life and Coster-Waldau faultlessly epitomises the instincts of fear and survival. What I particularly liked about the film is how brilliantly it portrays Jacob’s transformation into ‘Money’ as a feared and respected Aryan gang member. It does not romanticise prison life or the transformation of the character and does not try to excuse his actions. It neither excuses nor justifies the violence. It depicts life for what it is through documentary-like style of cinematography.

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Nikolaj, just like in game of thrones, has humanized a deeply flawed, immoral and corrupt character with true artistry and skill. He himself revealed that he is “attracted to human stories, to human beings” as well as possessing the “inherent gravitas” and the “innate ability to bring a human side to things”. Through Nikolaj’s embodiment of Jacob, we learn a story of a man who does not idealize his situation and his actions, does not glamorize his sacrifices and does not sentimentalize his life’s predicaments. Instead, he remains ‘real’, pragmatic and accepts the cards dealt to him. He epitomises the acceptance of life’s challenges, but refuses to surrender to them. He does not pity himself or the damaged fate of his family. With his performance, Nikolaj Coster Waldau, solidified his position as one of my favourite actors and I hope he gets more and more lead parts in the near future.

The film also has an impressive cast, who not only deliver good performances but create real, authentic characters that we can, if not to relate to, at least to understand. Supporting Nikolaj are the likes of Jon Bernthal, who I became fascinated with since his role as The Punisher in Daredevil and who again showcased his acting ability by portraying a complex and scared Frank ‘Shotgun’; Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice; Sicario); Benjamin Bratt (Despicable me 2; Miss Congeniality); Evan Jones (The Book of Eli; 8 Mile) and others.

Shot caller is an impressive film with a strong cast. It reminds how profound and complex even the ‘bad’ people can be and asks us to think twice about judging or labelling those ‘different’ to us. Yet, it does not romanticise or excuse crime or violence. It balances the two extremes perfectly by depicting one man’s journey into the criminal world. It’s a complex movie with the underlying themes of loyalty, family, life’s challenges, crime, sacrifices etc. It is a brutally honest and profound narrative of one man’s unfortunate circumstances. It is also a message that nothing in life is white or black, good or evil and that there is always a gray area where most of our actions and decisions stem from.

You must watch this film to understand how truly complex and great it is.

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