A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Shot Caller is a 2017 dark reflection on the ills of the penal system. A law-abiding family man has drinks at dinner and kills someone in a car accident, which sends him to prison for seven years, a fate that turns him by necessity into a violent criminal. For survival, he must do the illegal and violent bidding of the gang boss or risk death for himself and his family. Bloody, hand-to-hand killings are seen, as are gruesome knifing scenes. Drug use is shown. A prison rape occurs offscreen. Language includes "f--k," and "s--t." Adults drink alcohol. A prostitute takes off her clothes and waits on the bed for a man who turns her down. Her breasts are seen briefly.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
SHOT CALLER is the story of Jacob (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the Danish actor from Game of Thrones), a Pasadena stockbroker whose cushy life comes to an end when he drinks one too many at a dinner and then causes a fatal car accident. This bright, privileged white man with no prior arrests is convicted of manslaughter and sent to a prison where fellow inmates are all violent criminals. Told he won't survive in that merciless environment unless he establishes that he's no pushover, he fights the first guy who challenges him, earning time in solitary and the respect of the white gang running the prison. The rules are laid out for him: He'll be taken into the protective fold, but only if he performs illegal acts for the gang. They make clear that he'll be dead if he doesn't comply. The prison guards are corrupt, paid on a monthly basis by an imprisoned leader called The Beast (Holt McCallany), who runs his lucrative drugs and arms operations from inside with the assistance of inmates and members on the outside. When Jacob, nicknamed Money by the gang, gets out on parole, he's tasked by The Beast with transacting an illegal arms deal. To protect his family, Jacob tells his wife and son to forget him and get on with their lives, knowing that the gang will never let him leave the criminal life and that if anything goes wrong, The Beast will have his family killed. Jacob finds a way to rid the world of a few bad seeds and thwart the arms deal. Although he remains a criminal, he also manages to do the right thing.
Is it any good?
This film skillfully underlines the point that the prison system doesn't rehabilitate criminals and, in fact, makes them worse. Other movies have focused on underprivileged protagonists, school drop-outs with drug-addict or criminal parents, whose only chance at making a living is through criminal enterprise. Shot Caller gives us a man with an enviable life whose sudden interaction with prison gangs makes it impossible for him to survive unless he becomes as criminal and murderous as the inmates around him. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is convincing as both the decent Jacob and the ruthless Money. Sensitive teens may shudder at the gruesome knifing scenes.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether prisons can rehabilitate criminals. Do you think prisons should be punitive so that they deter crime, or rehabilitative so that criminals can become productive members of society?
How do you think prisons could be reconfigured to help inmates improve their lives?
Why are there so many movies or stories like Shot Caller about prisons? What's the appeal?
- In theaters: August 18, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: October 17, 2017
- Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lake Bell, Omari Hardwick, Jon Bernthal, Holt McCallany
- Director: Ric Roman Waugh
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and brief nudity
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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