Prison movies always require an effort. “The Green Mile”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Prophet”, “Cool Hand Luke” or “Papillon” are just a few of them to think about. Prison movies often have freedom hiding somewhere in the background. Still, few of them really captured prison psychology as good as legendary HBO series “Oz”. “Oz” was the real revolution, arguably it was the start of the “golden age of television”. After “Oz”, nothing was the same. In the prison series, we escaped the clichés of television, we were used to.
“Shot Caller” is definitely a prison movie. The plot is fairly simple. Stock broker accidentally killed a friend in a car crash. He was sent in prison and here everything begins. Spiral of crime captures the protagonist while he loses everything that makes him human. His nickname “Money” is only thing that matters. His name, his personality and everything he was isn’t important anymore. That alienation from identity is something we can often find in prison movies. Main question “will he survive” tranforms into “how will he adapt”. Adaptation goes hand in hand with alienation. It’s not voluntary, it’s guided process. Then, another question: “Who’s calling the shots?”
Main strength of the film is hidden in the answer to that question. “Shot Caller” is revealed at the beginning. We’re seeing two plots in two different time periods. In one, we can see the stock broker. In the other, we can see the “Shot Caller”. How the first became the second? Is there a story hidden within the story? Is there someone who’s calling the shots behind the curtain?
Nikolaj Costner-Waldau delivered his best performance to date. “Jaimie of the Thrones” here aspired to the throne in both fictional incarnations. Earlier as successful stock broker, later as prisoner struggling to position himself in the harsh and unforgiving system. It was obvious that the first effort will fail, as it was opposite to the second. Realities changed. Protagonist realized that his reality is now within the prison walls so he decided to build some walls himself. That’s also a tool often used in prison movies. Psychological walls are the only protection from the system and in the “Shot Caller” these walls are dividing personalities. Two lives intertwining in front of us, as the film progressed, were different as they could be, while still logically following the transformation that was immanent from the start.
Consequently, revelations are bringing it all together. Escape is final, even if it’s not physical. We know who the “Shot Caller” is and he is finally free. Paradox is, of course, that the definition of freedom is only possible within the prison walls, since it wasn’t achievable outside.
For that paradox alone, “Shot Caller” is one of the best movies this year so far.