Director Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch, Felon) seems hellbent on making a career out of crime dramas that are every bit as generic as their titles would suggest. His entire cinematic ideology appears to be constructed around the idea that the American prison system creates more criminals than it rehabilitates. As Waugh proves with Shot Caller, the slightest of improvements in a filmography comprised entirely of late night fare for one of the tributary Starz channels, he apparently believes wholeheartedly that once an innocent man is thrown behind bars, all of his moral convictions go right out the window.
Wealthy stockbroker Jacob Harlon’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, of Game of Thrones fame) inconceivably comfortable life is ripped up from the roots after a night of boozing leads to charges of manslaughter. With the death of his best friend (Max Greenfield) weighing on his conscience, Jacob opts to distance himself from his wife (Lake Bell) and embrace culture of his new home in prison. As anyone who is familiar with the movie world might expect, this leads him down a dark and unsavory path of toxic masculinity.
Right off the bat, Jacob goes through a monumental character change, from law abiding family man to hardened criminal, but we don’t see any of the steps of how he got there. The very first week he’s in the joint, he starts trafficking drugs for the Aryan Brotherhood. It takes almost nothing for him to grow out a handlebar mustache and start killing for the cause. Is Shot Caller making the argument that we all have a ruthless maniac hidden just below the surface, and it only takes a few nights in prison to unleash the beast?
The movie has a few scattered interesting moments hidden up its sleeve, but not nearly enough to counter the hurricane of clichés it’s spewing right from its opening scene. This is the sort of cookie-cutter prison drama that exists simply to take up space. Set to a score that Forgetting Sarah Marshall would describe as “ominous tones,” Waugh continuously equates close-ups with drama and confuses a nonlinear timeline with elevated storytelling. Shot Caller, if remembered at all, is predestined to be confused with countless other titles that cover the same ground.
Perhaps we should commend the ambition of Ric Roman Waugh, who has tried to beef up this run-of-the-mill movie with a fairly complex plot, but even the director doesn’t seem to understand all of the story arcs that have been crammed into two hours. The story jumps between the past and present, so many of the loose ends get resolved, but certainly not all of them. There are some events and characters that are completely forgotten about, like Benjamin Bratt’s detective, who was presumably a much larger part of an earlier version of this script. He, along with a handful of other supporting characters, could be removed from the film entirely and the plot would remain unchanged.
The final few scenes are far more alluring than anything leading up to them and, at times, the movie feels like it truly has something to say about the flaws of the legal system, but Shot Caller never makes up for how forgettable it is. It will surely be the background noise for many fathers’ Sunday naps in the near future. Shot Caller is a paycheck for several performers who should know better, nothing more.