Saturday, March 13, 2021

Movie Reviews: Shot Caller

Shot Caller
directed by Ric Roman Waugh 
I remember the righteous living and doing all I knew for good
/If I could change this corruption you know I would if I only could." Up in Heah" Ike &Tina Turner
A Shot Caller is the person or persons in a prison gang who has the authority (keys) for his gang for a particular yard, building, prison complex, group of prisons, or even entire state. What this person says goes. Challenging his authority or otherwise disrespecting him isn't wise. While a specific shot caller won't necessarily have defined authority over other races or prison gangs, depending on how numerous, vicious, and/or well connected his particular gang is, a particular shot caller could be the dominant boss.
If you are in a prison of 3000 and 2500 of the inmates belong to your race or gang then the shot callers for other races/gangs probably don't want too many problems with you. Or vice versa, if your 500 out of 3000 are known to be unified and insanely hyperviolent, you could punch well above your weight in terms of prison power and influence.
Shot Caller examines the fall of California stockbroker Jacob Harlan (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau , Jaime Lannister from HBO's Game of Thrones) from naive yuppie to a prince of darkness. The film has too many flash backs and flash forwards. It made sense at the end for reasons I can't discuss here but I think a traditional narrative would have been equally powerful. Physics hasn't given us the definitive answer for whether time travel into the past is possible. I think most people have wished that we could go in back in time to change a bad decision. Jacob certainly wishes he made better choices.
Jacob is buzzed after a dinner with his wife Kate (Lake Bell-underutilized here) and their friends.  Someone else should be driving. Unfortunately Jacob is driving. Jacob runs a red light and causes an accident. Jacob's vehicle is hit head on by another driver. Jacob's friend in the back seat, Tom, dies. Jacob's lawyer advises him to take a plea deal. 
The evidence against Jacob is strong. A trial will cost Jacob and his family money they don't have. Winning prosecutors usually ask for longer sentences. Jacob takes the deal. Jacob will do just 16 months at a minimum security facility. That's no time, relatively speaking. Less money spent on lawyers is more money for Kate and their son Joshua.
The state either forgot about the "minimum security" condition or understands those words differently than Jacob does. At the intake jail Jacob and some of the other newbies are sexually harassed and taunted. That night one new prisoner who showed fear is gang-raped. The next morning the man sobs alone as other inmates go about their business as if nothing happened. 
That incident steels Jacob's determination. At the prison, a minor conflict with a Black inmate gives Jacob the opportunity to show he's no punk. The White prisoners look on approvingly. Eventually Jacob is recruited by Shotgun (Jon Bernthal) and the local shotcaller Bottles (Jeffrey Donovan) to join the white supremacist PEN1 group. He doesn't have to say yes but a White man who declines might wish he hadn't. 

As Bottles patiently explains, every race sticks with their own. No exceptions. And gang members are all expected to put in work. No exceptions. Jacob learns that this work includes drug smuggling, beatings, and murders. Jacob becomes known as Money. He rises in the gang hierarchy. Unfortunately Jacob is caught on camera doing something not very nice. Jacob is convicted of another crime, has his sentence extended, and is transferred to a higher security prison. Jacob asks Kate to stop visiting or writing. 
At the higher security prison Jacob is asked to join the Aryan Brotherhood by its shotcaller, an intelligent, direct, and intimidating bearded fellow known as Beast (Holt McCallany). The AB is the dominant white prison gang. Upon Jabob's parole, Beast assigns a task to a physically and perhaps morally transformed Jacob.
Jacob's parole officer Ed Kutcher (Omari Hardwick) thinks that Jacob is smarter than he looks and possibly more moral than he seems, even as Jacob does what he can to prove otherwise. Ed will revoke Jacob's parole in a minute if he learns about any wrongdoing though.
This was a movie which could have had 15-20 minutes cut off its running time without losing much in terms of story. I liked how the movie showed how prison/gang rules are used to restrict and eventually even eliminate individual choice. Jacob sees his only choice to be either victim or victimizer.
If there is a scheduled race riot and you are a member of a gang you had better be in the front lines. Even if you aren't a gang member if it jumps off between your group and another group, people from your group need to see you out there handling business. Because otherwise you're going to have a problem. This is the third(?) movie that Waugh has done to show us that there's a problem in the penal system. This was a decent film.

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