Shot Caller - Ric Roman Waugh
I always find it nice when I discover a film after its release. There are so many films that get buzz well before shooting to the point of oversaturation, and then indifference. Sometimes it's because the people involved aren’t renowned or it lacks the investment, but regardless, the surprise of a film that has promise is exciting. It also helps that Shot Caller stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and comes out right in the middle of this season of Game of Thrones.
Jacob (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a family man stock broker, envied by some for his life. One night, after a few drinks during a double date, he runs a red light and inadvertently kills his friend and injures several others. After accepting jail time, we follow his time behind bars and later, his parole. At least that's what the trailer depicts.
While it's not a misleading trailer, the focus is misplaced. Shot Caller begins with Jacob’s release day, well after prison life has shaped him into a different person. We get the transformation in very small and few flashbacks. It may not the wrong choice of structure, because it's worked both ways; the problem is in how how the film sequences present and past events. Certain reveals carry no weight: after showing us that Jacob had to serve extra time, the film follows up ten minutes later with the reason, but it's not exactly as pivotal to his transformation as it's made out to be. All the while, the score is one of most overtly suggestive scores of the year. I can’t help but grumble at that sort of stuff. At least Nikolaj can act his ass off and make you choke up when he slams the door in his son’s face, even if the son’s character is one-dimensional.
Beyond depriving the film of a meaningful transformation, the return to society is hamfisted and bloated. The majority of Shot Caller is a character study, yet we get a more than a few scenes that don’t do anything for Jacob, or that even particularly pertain to him. Most are for the audience so they doesn’t have to infer any background dealings, but since we spend so little time with them and we see them in high risk situations, I was just reminded how I didn’t care for these people. For instance, why introduce us to a parole officer 20 seconds before he gets shot meeting someone who isn’t remotely involved in Jacob’s doing? Especially since he was wearing a vest, walks away with bruises, and the ordeal is never mentioned again?
Luckily the film isn’t a waste. At the very least, it's entertaining. There may not be much or anything unique, but Nikolaj drops his pretty boy Jaime Lannister charm for a skinhead demeanor, and it works. Sometimes it's a little unsettling to see how willing he is to stab a man he's barely known in broad daylight. The directing is a little hit or miss. High octane moments gain a little gravitas with tight perspective shots or an economic use of slow motion. On the other hand, simple interactions try techniques beyond shot / reverse shot and it's just not right, such as multiple long shots in a restaurant when there's no tension, and instead should be personal. As for the plot… Beyond the way it's told, it's fine. You can guess where it goes, but you can still have that little fist pump to yourself when Jacob solves one of his many problems.
It's hard to stay I recommend Shot Caller. If you have a theater showing near you, paying that premium would mean a hard pass. The film was also released simultaneously on Amazon and Google Play, and that may be an easier sell. The truth is, save this for a lazy afternoon when HBO or Starz pick it up.
- Alex B.
"Curtains" is where you can catch movie reviews by the Metal Lifestyle staff.