Shot Caller

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Shot Caller Movie Poster Image
Violent prison tale has blood and language.
  • R
  • 2017
  • 121 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

As criminals continue to run illegal enterprises from prison and enlist guards to do their dirty work, prisons convert low-level criminals into higher-level ones. Prison forces inmates to "become warriors or victims." "Once a guy is institutionalized, anything is possible."

Positive Role Models & Representations

When he gets to prison, Jacob understands that if he doesn't act tough, defend himself, obey the rules of established gangs, he'll be killed; his wife, son might be too. Out of necessity he transforms into a drug-smuggling killer inside prison and, once out, into an obedient gang soldier. A criminal engages in criminal activities, including murder, while trying to do the right thing.

Violence

After drinking too much at dinner, a man has a car accident that kills his friend. Blood is seen. Inmates shiv each other repeatedly in a bloody prison riot. Guards spray them with mace. Two prisoners are ordered to kill a fellow inmate with a shiv. Blood is seen. A man kills a snitch with a knife; blood all over both men. The gang requires a man to hide a balloon filled with drugs in his rectum to transport it inside the prison. He's shown grimacing as he hides it. New prisoner is raped by several inmates. The muffled sounds of violence are heard. Inmates wear swastika tattoos.

Sex

A prostitute takes off her clothes and waits on the bed for a man who turns her down. Her breasts are seen briefly.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "peckerwood."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man who had been drinking accidentally kills a friend in a car crash. Adults drink alcohol and use drugs. A man is seen snorting a powder.

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.

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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?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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