Shot Caller review – taut, tense prison thriller that's unexpectedly impressive

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is terrific as a blameless family man transformed into a tattooed hard case by his time in jail following a fatal road accident

The last film by Ric Roman Waugh I caught was the fantastically improbable and overblown Snitch, about the war on drugs. My expectations here were tepid. But Shot Caller turns out to be a really taut, tense, prison-set thriller, a little like Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet and longform television such as Breaking Bad or The Wire.

Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Jacob, a blameless financial trader and family man who is sent to prison for accidentally killing someone while driving through a red light. Advised by his nervy lawyer to play it tough on his first day in the yard, Jacob catastrophically gets involved in a fight with an African-American prisoner and gets befriended by an extreme white-power gang – persuaded that hanging with them is the only way to survive. So he gets sucked into prison culture, discovers in himself a capacity for ruthlessness and morphs into a seriously tattooed gangbanger with the nickname “Money”.

This identity is Jacob’s only way of making sense of the horrible things he has been forced to do. It could have been absurd, but the ferocity of Coster-Waldau’s performance sells it, and there are great switchbacks and flashbacks in Waugh’s script, crosscutting between his respectable life, his prison existence and his new criminal adventure on parole – all tied up with a neat twist at the end. I can see it becoming a Netflix series.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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