Shot Caller (4 stars)

Shot Caller

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau shines in a compassionate, beautifully lensed crime thriller

With its emotional resonance amplified by leading man Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's haunting performance, the fourth narrative feature from writer-director Ric Roman Waugh (Snitch) sees a man lose his life of privilege only to be reborn as a powerful gangster. Recalling Michael Mann at his finest, this classy cops and robbers thriller gets its thieves spot on, but its indifference to those hunting them curtails its estimable ambition.

We first meet Jacob (street name 'Money') on his release from a maximum security California prison, his treatment by a guard showing his seniority. With his 'white pride' tattoo, hard stare and ripped physique he's every inch the formidable felon but all is far from as it seems; Jacob's old life as a successful stockbroker and family man is revealed in flashback, including his loving, respectful relationship with wife Kate (Lake Bell). His fall is chilling in its abruptness and could-happen-to-you nature.

The unravelling of this charmed man is incessantly intriguing in a considered take on crime and punishment that's paced and structured superbly, meaning you're hanging on each reveal. Thrown into the ultimate pit of toxic masculinity – the US penal system, of which Waugh is highly critical – Jacob reluctantly does what it takes to survive, including aligning himself with racists, but his fundamental decency leaves him tormented by his actions and further and further from any possibility of a reunion with his family.

Strikingly shot by Dana Gonzales, who finds a sinister kind of beauty in the brutal prison architecture and barbaric means of penning and demeaning these men, the film also benefits from canny casting. Jacob's shifty associate 'Shotgun' is played by Jon Bernthal (who else?), while Jeffrey Donovan and Holt McCallany impress as influential inmates; shame that those playing law-enforcers (including Omari Hardwick as a parole officer) don't get a chance to do the same.

Despite the sometimes exhilarating fluidity of Gonzales's camerawork, Shot Caller is helmed with a sure and steady hand as it resists revelling in Jacob's transgressions in favour of maintaining an overriding sense of what has been lost. Bringing us close to a troubled, taciturn man, the melancholic brand of machismo and Coster-Waldau's affecting turn never fail to mesmerise in a film that consistently foregrounds the human cost of crime.

Limited release from Fri 15 Dec.

Shot Caller

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 2h 1min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh
  • Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Holt McCallany, Lake Bell
  • UK release: 15 December 2017

Jacob (Coster-Waldau) is a stockbroker who finds himself in the Californian penal system and is forced to adapt to his environment by aligning himself with racists. Classy cops and robbers thriller with a haunting and affecting performance from Coster-Waldau as a man who has to leave his family in order to protect it.