Tuesday, August 15, 2017

New Mexican-Shot Film - "Shot Caller" - Opens Friday, Aug. 18th - In Albuquerque


 An ordinary life, albeit one of a wealthy stockbroker, a “money man,” comes to a screeching halt when Jacob  accidentally kills his best friend while driving under the influence.  His life, and that of his family and the victim’s family, is shattered and he enters prison.  His life up to this point has been sheltered, privileged, and far removed from the world of prisons and gangs. 

While in the real world it’s highly unlikely an upper middle-class white man would end up in a maximum security prison for a first time offense, disbelief has to be suspended for the story to work. And it does work.

“Shot Caller” (2017) - directed by Ric Roman Waugh -  opens not with the idyllic life of Jacob (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)(“Game of Thrones”) but with his prison release with a bit of cash, an ID card, and a ride to the station.  This man is hard as nails, tattooed, eyes with a glint of steel. 

The film flashes back to his gilded past, forcefully contrasting it with the harsh and cruel present.  The director’s use of intercuts from the past to the present particularly highlights the acting abilities of Coster-Waldau since Jacob and “Money” (his prison moniker) have distinctly opposite personas.

Will any of Jacob’s humanity return? That’s the question.

In prison, his first lesson is a hard one.  He has to stand up for himself in a milieu dominated by gangs or he’ll be brutalized.   In the yard, he fights someone who bumps him, leading to being thrown in the hole but gaining that curious macho respect one gains by being violent.

Violence incrementally escalates in him when he’s coerced into a drug transaction, then amplifies when he’s ordered to kill someone. He is told, “a place like this forces us to become angels or victims.”  On the outside he was a high-end money-maker. On the inside, he begins the rise to the top.  He has made his choice.

His heart shows briefly when his wife - despite his wishes - brings his son to prison for a visit.  He tells him to stay away.  “Some things just don’t go back together again.”  Alone later, he cries.

Crime as entertainment is not the reality of crime and punishment. It is a way the filmmaker works through mythologies - good and evil, redemption, punishment, life and death, a morality tale, the hero journey.  “Shot Caller” shows the dehumanizing process people go through when thrust into harsh environments filled with desperate people with no hope. While the film visualizes an extreme, the fact is that the prison experience damages people who already are damaged. Utilizing this setting to tell a story acknowledges that reality to an extent, then moves into the mythology to entertain the audience.

(One personal aside, if you will: It would be a better world if Hollywood would donate some of the profits it makes off of crime stories to prison reform and prison re-entry programs).

“Shot Caller,”  like other crime films, brings out in the audience all the contradictory thoughts and feelings we have towards crime.  We empathize with the need for protecting one’s family and oneself and put aside our abhorrence at the violent means to ends portrayed in these films.  We fear crime and criminals yet strangely root for some of them in films and television.  

Walter White is another prime example of how the entertainment industry creates an anti-hero whom we love.  How many people admired him while at precisely the same time were appalled by his expanding sociopathology?

Likewise, this is how we view Jacob / “Money.”  Through his choices, we see his true character, and it’s repulsive.  He is a warrior, a gangster, and once released kills without remorse.   He tells his family once and for all, “It’s over.  Forget I exist.”

Until.... Yes, there is a more than satisfactory twist to the story. 

Most of the other characters are not well-developed with the exception of Omari Hardwick (“Saved,” “Dark Blue”), who plays Jacob’s beleaguered but street-wise parole officer. Again, suspend disbelief because his duties as parole officer go above and beyond those of parole officer in the real world.

Lake Bell (“In A World,” one of my favorites) is underutilized in this film portraying his wife Kate. More of a contrast between who Jacob was and who he became could have been developed had there been more scenes between Jacob and Kate.  Co-stars also include Jon Bernthal (“Sicario”) and Jeffrey Donovan (“Burn Notice”), the latter in a role completely opposite the Michael Weston character.

Ric Roman Waugh wrote, produced, and directed this film. It is the third of a trilogy of his films, “Felon,” and “Snitch” preceding “Shot Caller.”  I commend him for drawing the viewer into the story with compelling action scenes and a different perspective on the crime story.  Cinematographer Dana Gonzales is also to be commended for the stunning visuals that show the claustrophobia of both prisons and the post-prison world where one surrounds oneself with other ex-cons and furtively hides from law enforcement and normalcy.

Filmed in New Mexico in 2015,  this film is opening on August 18th at Icon Cinemas in Albuquerque - located in the Four Hills Shopping Center.  Contact the theater at 505-814-7469 or check out their website for more information. http://albuquerque.iconcinemas.com  “Shot Caller” also opens that date in 17 other U.S. markets and is available as premium video-on-demand.   Here is a link to the trailer:  https://youtu.be/Xm157yQ7g1E

Sources aside from the film:  Press material from Saban Films (including photos), IMDb, Variety Magazine

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