Before censorship Hays Code goes into effect, a film called I’m a Fugitive from Chain Gang released in 1932. Nominated for three Academy Awards, chain gang surprised audiences with his portrayal of James Allen (Paul Muni), an unemployed and poor man who fell on hard times. Arrested for a crime he did not commit, he is forced to serve a sentence that no longer exists: A chain gang.
The chain gang appealed to the government. With convicts forced to work hard for free, infrastructure in rural areas improves. The shackles also minimized the need for prison guards, but they were ruthless by nature. The chains gave rise to painful ulcers and dangerous infections, and left some prisoners vulnerable to others.
But inhumanity is hard to get rid of. The concept of a chain gang even resurfaced in 1995, because once a person has an effective idea for a violent punishment, he rarely repels the enemy quickly. And that’s the general arrogance behind it Shot Callera 2017 thriller film directed by Ric Roman Waugh.
The film opens by introducing us to Money (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, break from Game of Thrones), who, from the looks of it, is a bad guy. Not only was he in prison, but his body was covered in white power tattoos. He wrote a letter to his son, but he wasn’t too worried about sending it, considering he was about to be expelled. He is met with open arms by Shotgun (Jon Bernthal), who is also covered in tattoos, and the clean-skinned Howie (Emory Cohen), who is easily intimidated by Money even though he is a registered soldier in Afghanistan.
These guys love Money and promise to set him up with everything he needs beyond twang. They go to a party full of beautiful women, where Shotgun tells Money to pick him. But Money is not interested in sleeping with anyone, at least without going on a date first. Before any romance can be sparked, a shooting occurs, wounding Money’s future lover.
It’s a film about tough men making tough decisions and doing tough things, and outside of wife Money Kate (Lake Bell), women mainly stand in the background as men explain what needs to be done. But wait, Money has a wife?
Money is not always Money, you know. Once upon a time, he was a successful stockbroker named Jacob Harlon. Jacob Harlon has a loving wife who aspires to be a designer, a son he doesn’t really care about, and a best friend at the firm, Tom (New Girl Max Greenfield).
It’s all thrown out the window when Jacob gets distracted and crashes his car on a double date night, killing Tom and the other driver. Fearing the worst in court, Jacob accepts a plea deal for two years in prison. Thus began the transformation of Jacob into Money.
Jacob quickly decides that he has to stay in prison, lest he become a victim of the ever-present prison violence. When a black inmate provoked him, he stood up straight and retaliated. It impresses white supremacists in the yard, especially Shotgun and Bottles (Jeffrey Donovan), a gunshot-caller for a vicious gang. Jacob joined in, telling himself that his decision was only about surviving. They started calling him Money, a reference to his white-collar past.
But joining a gang doesn’t simplify things. Money soon finds himself involved with another gang, and stabbing an inmate adds nine years to his sentence. All a stunned Kate could do was watch in the courtroom as Money told her to forget he ever existed.
Shot Caller eventually merge the two timelines, and outside of prison Money finds himself swimming in betrayal. The shotgun acts underhanded, and Money orders the impressionable Howie not to follow anyone but him. Eventually, it becomes clear that Shotgun is acting as an informant for Money’s parole officer, Kutcher (Omari Hardwick, of Army of the Dead), which is trying to stop the impending arms deal.
It’s a story about a man who finds himself growing more and more comfortable as he’s given less and less freedom, and Coster-Waldau takes the film through some of the more confusing twists and turns with the transformations that come from his face and physique. as do many of his Neo-Nazi tattoos. Shot Caller far from the first film to show that punishment can change a person, but the top cast makes it really good.
Shot Caller streaming on Netflix until May 23.