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Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau breaks bad in crime thriller ‘Shot Caller’

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the movie "Shot Caller."
(Saban Films)

The prison-tinged action drama “Shot Caller” arrives at a tension-filled national moment when a protagonist with WHITE PRIDE tattooed on his back might not be the antihero audiences care to see. The ink is a sign of the soul-tainting effects of the penitentiary system on a successful businessman and family man — Jacob, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau — who’s sent to prison for DUI manslaughter and sees survival in joining a skinhead gang, even as his newly violent persona shreds every last connection to his former self.

Writer-director Ric Roman Waugh’s bid for Michael Mann-like testosterone tragedy has its admirable elements, primarily in treating seriously how families are ripped apart by incarceration and in creating suspense in telling parallel narratives that contrast a just-released Jacob’s perilous involvement in an arms deal with the backstory of his transformation.

Still, it’s hard to take Jacob’s precipitous drop as believable, despite the “Game of Thrones” star’s commanding physical performance and the effective supporting work of Omari Hardwick as his suspicious parole officer, Lake Bell as his suffering wife and Jon Bernthal as a fellow gang member.

It always feels like an exercise instead of an examination, a flow chart of bad decisions and explosive violence that may not glorify the poisonous nature of hard time but rarely skims below the surface of what it means to break bad.

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‘Shot Caller’

Rating: R, for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and brief nudity

Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute

Playing: AMC Norwalk

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