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GAME OF THRONES’ Jaime Lannister Goes to Jail in SHOT CALLER (LAFF Review)

GAME OF THRONES’ Jaime Lannister Goes to Jail in SHOT CALLER (LAFF Review)

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has been called upon to do many distasteful things during his Game of Thrones tenure, from incest to attempted child murder to having his hand chopped off. But unless I blinked and missed it, he never, ever, had to stick a balloon full of drugs deep into his butt for safekeeping. So thanks for giving us that, Shot Caller, and for being discreet about it. By holding the camera in a close-up of Coster-Waldau’s face, the movie lets us see him emote every different grimace that an obviously heinous bit of sense-memory work induces. It’s a tour de force of facial expressions, and absolutely must be included on the highlight reel when he gets that lifetime acting award some day.

Director Ric Roman Waugh specializes in hard-hitting, violent dramas about decent family men forced to behave like criminals (Felon, Snitch), and his latest star has made a name for himself as a potentially redeemable scumbag. As such, the two are practically a platonic love connection. Coster-Waldau plays Jacob, a.k.a. “Money,” whom we first see emerging from a maximum security prison sporting longish hair and a handlebar mustache. After a while, the narrative flips back to 10¬†years prior, when he’s an Aaron Eckhart-looking white-collar worker in the field of finance, happily married and kinda dorky but, as he’s about to find out, also one DUI away from¬†prison.

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The narrative flips back and forth, gradually adding perspective to his post-prison plans by showing how an unassuming suit first became a muscular, tattooed White Nationalist with a plan. It’s all a process to protect his family, he rationalizes…even when they no longer want a thing to do with him. See, even though the only blood on his hands initially comes from an irresponsible accident, it’s considered a violent crime and gets him thrown in with the worst of the worst, where his lawyer advises him to come on tough right off the bad. He does, and the gangs notice; before long, he’s doing things for them that range from bad (the butt balloon) to worse (murder). He’s no good to his wife and kid dead, right? But he’ll be killed himself by his new “brothers” if he doesn’t toe the white power line (a line, incidentally, that’s very flexible on the racism when it comes to mutually agreeable sales of arms and narcotics).

While Coster-Waldau’s English accent is solid when he’s doing Game of Thrones, his “American” has a much more audible Danish undertone. Technically, this ought to make him less believable in a movie where nobody around him sounds like that, but for folks who grew up with ’80s movies, it actually gives him a Dolph Lundgren vibe that plays like a cool throwback. As his prison buddy, Jon Bernthal initial starts out typecast (he’s even named “Frank”), but once he’s on the outside, that exterior breaks down quickly in refreshing counterintuitive fashion.

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Orange Is the New Black makes the animals/prisoners connection explicit in its opening song; Shot Caller does so by literally putting its inmates in outdoor zoo cages that get progressively smaller. It also outright says what many pet-owners already know: the “animals” are actually the bosses of you, and not vice-versa, in part because they’ll revert to instincts you’re not prepared to unleash.

Antonio Pinto’s score is a bit much at times; during scenes in which Jacob feels sad, it can feel as if we’re being bludgeoned with the world’s largest violin. And with so much actual bludgeoning onscreen, that’s just not necessary.

Rating: 3.5 medium-rare burritos out of 5

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Images: Saban

Luke Y. Thompson is a member of the L.A. Film Critics Association, and is fond of the word “bludgeon.” Tweet him @LYTrules.

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