HARDENED CON: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Gritty prison movies are hardly a novelty, but as prison overcrowding and violence continue to loom as social issues, Ric Roman Waugh’s 'Shot Caller' is undeniably timely.

Waugh made a movie with a very similar premise, Felon, in 2008, which didn’t set the box office on fire, but featured strong performances by Stephen Dorff and Val Kilmer. His new film had its world premiere at the LA Film Festival and the box office should be respectable.

'Shot Caller' benefits from the presence of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the star of 'Game of Thrones', in the leading role. Since the film’s release coincides with the new season of the HBO series, cross-promotional opportunities abound. Here the actor plays Jacob, a financier involved in an accident that kills a friend who is a fellow passenger in his car. It seems a bit of a stretch to believe that a man without a criminal record would be sent to a maximum-security prison for causing the accident. 

Although the film explains that when a violent death is involved, this could conceivably happen, the script could use more than a single line to ensure audience acceptance of this dubious premise.

Nevertheless, once you get past this setup, the pic is riveting. It intercuts two distinct time periods and begins with Jacob being released from prison after a 10-year term, then takes us back to his charmed life before that.

The editing allows us to appreciate the range of Coster-Waldau’s performance. He conveys a strong masculine presence in both sections of the film and it is fascinating to watch his transformation from privileged family man to hardened con.

Jacob finds himself caught between rival gangs in the prison and he has to join up with the white supremacist group for the sake of sheer survival. Waugh’s script bitingly captures the racism so prevalent in prison and the scenes of desperate men in the yard strikingly convey the soul-crushing dehumanisation among prison populations.

Waugh knows how to stage and edit action scenes compellingly. 

The prison scenes, filmed in part in real prisons are vivid. And the family drama turns out to be unexpectedly moving. 'Shot Caller' navigates familiar terrain with considerable skill.