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Film / Shot Caller

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"The fact is, we all started out as someone's little angel. And a place like this forces us to become warriors or victims. Nothing in between can exist here."

Shot Caller is a 2017 drama film starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

A businessman is sent to prison after killing his best friend in a drunk driving accident, where he becomes deeply involved with the Aryan Brotherhood. After being released after ten years, he is ordered to oversee a major weapons deal with the Sonora cartel, while a probation officer tries to track him down.

This film provides examples of:

  • Beard of Evil: Most of the Aryan Brotherhood senior members are sporting a lot of facial hair.
  • A Beast in Name and Nature: The imposing leader of the Aryan Brotherhood chapter is known only as "The Beast". Captures both his brutal, animalistic nature, and as a dragon for Jacob to slay.
  • Big Bad: Jerry "The Beast" Manning is the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood in the prison Jacob was sent to, and is the one who ordered him to carry out the weapons deal with the cartel under threat of killing his family.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jacob will spend the rest of his life in prison, but he has become the undisputed leader of the Aryan Brotherhood there to protect his family, who are ready to move on.
  • Book Ends: The film opens with Jacob writing a letter to his son Joshua apologizing for failing him as a father and advising him to get on with his life. At the end, Joshua sends him a letter back, telling his father that he will do so and has forgiven him.
  • Chronic Villainy: Jacob continues the Aryan Brotherhood's activities as soon as he's out of prison, as the only acceptable retirement is death. Ultimately, he gives up his freedom and usurps control over the entire prison chapter as the sole method to reliably protect his family from reprisals.
  • Cop Killer: Top level Aryan Brotherhood member Redwood murders a guard to remind the rest that even though he'll be put on death row, in prison (and even the Secure Housing Unit, the highest security area where they're held), it isn't the guards who run things, but them.
  • Death Row: The high-ranking AB member Redwood ends up on death row after killing a guard on the Beast's orders to remind them of their power.
  • Dirty Cop: Several of the correctional officers are on the payroll of the Aryan Brotherhood and the Mexican Mafia.
  • Driver Faces Passenger: Jacob is driving tipsy with three passengers. He looks back to fist bump his friend, and crashes almost immediately. It only gets worse from there.
  • Failure Gambit: Jacob deliberately uses Shotgun's cellphone to tip off the authorities about the illegal weapons deal taking place in the Salton Sea. He gets arrested and refuses any deal they throw at him to inform on his bosses, going back to prison specifically to confront the Aryan Brotherhood leader and replace him.
  • First Rule of the Yard: Deconstructed. Jacob Harlon realizes that he has to win favor with one of the local prison gangs for protection, so when a random inmate challenges him in front of them, he immediately starts a fight to save face. They take him in afterwards, but their subsequent demands for him to smuggle drugs only ends up drawing him further and further into the gang.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: During his time in prison, Jacob transforms from a frightened fresh inmate into one of the leading members of a powerful prison gang. This is especially obvious in his interactions with Shotgun; when they first met, Shotgun spoke down to him, but after they meet again on the outside ten years later, Shotgun is flat-out terrified of him.
  • Genius Bruiser: The highest-ranking members of the Aryan Brotherhood are incredibly cunning in addition to brutal fighters. Their leader, the Beast, reads psychology books and political treatises in his spare time. He loans Jacob some of them to hone his skills, saying, "A warrior's greatest weapon is his mind."
  • Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: Jacob Harlon was originally put in prison for two years after pleading guilty to a DUI manslaughter charge. He joins the Aryan Brotherhood in prison to survive, and is forced to get his hands dirty more than once, starting by smuggling drugs and later by murdering snitches and rival gang members. During one of these attacks in the middle of a prison riot, the act is caught on camera, and Jacob is given an additional nine years (85% mandatory) on top of his original sentence, and sent to a secure housing unit. Even after he leaves prison, he continues his activities for the gang on the outside, and orchestrates events so that he becomes the leader of the entire gang after killing his predecessor for threatening his family. It helps that they won't accept anyone leaving except by death.
  • Hero Antagonist: Ed Kutcher is a parole officer investigating Jacob and the Aryan Brotherhood and is trying to bust their weapons deal with the Sonora cartel.
  • Hollywood Law: While Jacob might have been given a 16-month sentence for what he did, it is extremely implausible for somebody with his profile (stockbroker, family man, and first-time offender with a DUI manslaughter conviction) to immediately be placed in a maximum-security prison like the one Jacob goes to. He might even get probation or a suspended sentence, especially as he'd be able to get a good defense lawyer. Even if sentenced to prison, this would almost certainly be minimum or medium security, and he'd only get in maximum for breaking rules. Then there would be no plot of course, but they could have had a more plausible scenario for this.
  • In Medias Res: The film opens with Jacob being released from prison after serving out a ten-year sentence, then flashes back to show the events that led to his incarceration and his subsequent time in prison, interspersed with scenes set in the present day.
  • Klingon Promotion: In the end, Jacob uses a razor blade he smuggled into the prison to overpower a corrupt guard, then unlocks the cell to Aryan leader "The Beast" so he can kill him and take over the gang after convincing the guard to falsify the death report to say that Jacob acted in self-defense.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: Even with being in prison and kept isolated, the heads of the AB chapter still run their operations outside, with guards on the payroll. Very much Truth in Television.
  • The Mole: Shotgun is working with Officer Kutcher to bring down Jacob and the rest of the Aryan Brotherhood, since his drug-smuggling girlfriend has a twenty year sentence hanging over her head. Jacob kills him when he finds out.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Beast is never referred to by anything else. His real name, Jerry Manning, is only briefly seen when the Aryan Brotherhood's minion prison guard types up a report which includes this.
  • Pet the Dog: One of the first things we see Jacob do, which tells us that he's at least not as bad as the other gang bangers, is refuse the coerced advances of a prostitute. When he sees that she sees it as a personal rejection, he makes up an excuse to have drinks with her sometime.
  • Prison Rape: On his first night in prison, Jacob is witness to the gang rape of another inmate.
  • Prison Changes People: When Jacob is finally released, he's not just a notorious killer, but the experience has changed him so fundamentally that he refuses to reunite with his family for their own good.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Jacob joins the Aryan Brotherhood in prison for reasons of survival. While he assists in drug smuggling and carrying out hits on their enemies, at no point does Jacob display any racist views of his own. He even seems to be perturbed by Shotgun offering him a bunch of drunk girls at a party, and doesn't take advantage of them.
  • Ready for Lovemaking: At a house party organized by PEN1 gang members, Jacob briefly goes into the bathroom. When he comes out, a groupie is lying naked on the bed. He politely declines and tells her to put her clothes back on.
  • Red Baron: Any inmate with any notoriety has a nickname: Jacob (who used to be a businessman) is "Money," Frank is "Shotgun," the mid-level glasses-wearing Aryan is "Bottles," the Aryan chapter leader is "The Beast," etc.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: After Jacob becomes a high-level member of the Aryan Brotherhood, their leadership orders that he will continue to earn for them after leaving prison, even threatening his wife and son. Jacob eventually decides that killing the chapter leader and taking that over is the only way he can permanently ensure his family's safety.
  • Sinister Shiv: Naturally, during Jacob's time in prison while being part of a major gang, he has used a shank on several occasions.
  • Tattooed Crook: Jacob acquires a large amount of white supremacist tattoos during his prison sentence displaying his gang affiliations. Obviously, the same holds true for other higher-ranked members.