The Best Movie You Never Saw: Shot Caller

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at SHOT CALLER!

THE STORY: After causing a deadly accident while driving drunk, a family man (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is sent to a maximum security penitentiary. There, he’s recruited by the Aryan Brotherhood, and coerced into acts of violence that threaten to erase any trace of the man he once was.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Omari Hardwick, Lake Bell, Jon Bernthal, Emory Cohen & Jeffrey Donovan. Written and directed by Ric Roman Waugh.

THE HISTORY: SHOT CALLER was released with very little fanfare last summer. A low-key VOD release from Saban, which nonetheless received some pretty good reviews when it played the festival circuit, it forms a loose trilogy for director Ric Roman Waugh, following his earlier FELON and SNITCH. Originally a Relativity production, that company’s bankruptcy sent the finished film into a tailspin, hence the limited release. Given how VOD numbers are rarely revealed, it’s impossible to know how the film did financially, but it seems to have been a heavily pirated title, cutting into the bottom line – although that aspect also gave the film a certain cult notoriety which seems to be growing.

I didn’t know much of Saban Films when we were looking for a new home — I just thought of Haim Saban and the “Power Rangers” franchise. I ended up meeting with the team at this new independent distributor and had suddenly found partners that were super passionate about the film and understood what the movie was and the marketing enhances it in that way. I feel like we traded up. I knew it wasn’t going to be a massive box office hit but I hope it makes enough to make everyone happy. – Ric Roman Waugh Variety interview


WHY IT'S GREAT: As I wrote when I initially reviewed this title last summer, SHOT CALLER is the reason I review so many VOD films. Usually, they’re crap, but occasionally, a great little sleeper, such as this one, hits the platform, and makes the digging worthwhile. A tough-as-nails prison thriller, “Game of Thrones” star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau gives the performance of his life as the comfy, white-collar family man turned hard as nails killer.

I knew I had to get a guy that could straddle both lines — believable as a white collar guy, yet surprise you when they become violent. When I talked with Nik, it really was one of the greatest conversations I’ve had with an actor. All he talked about for three hours was the subtext of the character, what the movie meant and nothing about any of the cool stuff the character would do. It had nothing to do with that. It was all about what the movie was trying to present, and I knew right there I had my partner. – Ric Roman Waugh Variety interview 

SHOT CALLER never begs you to sympathize with Coster-Waldau’s Jacob (or – as he’s called in the slammer – “Money”). It’s made clear that it’s his own fault that he wound up in prison, having driven drunk and then refused a plea which would have saved him from his fate. It reminded me a bit of the old Tom Selleck vehicle, AN INNOCENT MAN, although Jacob’s not, in fact, innocent. Yet, you still naturally empathize with him, even when he makes horrible choices, such as affiliating with the Aryan Brotherhood. Even then, there’s an escape, with their chapter head (an unnerving Jeffrey Donovan) advising him to keep his head down and do what they tell him, but his own machismo gets the better of him. Soon, his thirty-month sentence becomes a decade, and the film crosses back and forth between his eventual release, where he’s now a high ranking gang member, to his prison career. He’s our hero, yet you never really root for him to get back to his family, as they really are better without him – giving the film a palpable sense of tragedy.

At the same time, SHOT CALLER works as a thriller, with brutal action scenes, and an amazing supporting cast, including Lake Bell as Jacob’s wife, Donovan, and Jon Bernthal as another gang member – plus Omari Hardwick of “Power” as the probation officer on Jacob’s trail. Waugh gives it a gritty, stripped-down feel, and earns the two hour plus running time. In a better marketplace, this would have been an A-level studio release.

BEST SCENE: Money’s initial involvement in a prison riot ends in disaster, but Waugh convincingly depicts the madness and adrenaline pumping action of the heightened situation, putting us right in Money’s shoes. This is a masterfully shot scene, where we see how one testosterone fueled moment is enough to scuttle any chance of Jacob ever going back to his own life.

SEE IT: SHOT CALLER is available on most streaming sites, and on Blu-ray.

PARTING SHOT: Given the low key release, this is likely one of the few movies in this column I wager a lot of people genuinely have never seen, but it’s an under-the-radar gem and a must see. Check it out!

Source: JoBlo.com



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