In a cultural climate fraught with anger, many artists have turned to imagining new versions of the Civil War to work through the issues that face us (i.e. American War or HBO’s Confederate). Bushwick follows Lucy (Brittany Snow) and Stupe (Dave Bautista) as they try to make it to safety and save Lucy’s sister Belinda (Angelic Zambrana) after a new civil war breaks out and militants try to take Brooklyn in order to force the government to allow a group of states, led by Texas, to secede.
Bushwick is a compact film that makes some brave choices, particularly toward the end. Getting to the strong last half hour took some patience, though. The sociopolitical ideas behind the story do not come through at first, because the writers opt to keep the characters in the dark about why Brooklyn is under fire. I don’t think that narrative choice does the film any favors, thematically or otherwise. When the movie gets to the point, it doesn’t do much with it. On one hand, that leaves room for thought, but it also left me wanting the writers to play more with the ideas they raise. It seemed like the script needed a lot more revision and polish. Even still, the emotional payoff at the end was strong.
On the back of the timely and interesting premise and the performance of the small cast, I rate Bushwick 3 of 5 stars.
Bushwick is in theaters now or available on iTunes. It was written by Nick Damici and Graham Reznick and directed by Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott. It runs 94 minutes and is not rated.
If Bushwick shows violence that breaks out from national anger, Shot Caller offers a portrait of violence stemming from personal trauma. In Shot Caller, Jacob (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Kate (Lake Bell) have a happy, affluent life until an accident upends their home and relationships. While out on a double date, Jacob runs a red light and causes a car wreck that kills his friend Tom (Max Greenfield) in the backseat. Because he had more to drink than the legal limit and caused the accident, Jacob faces 18 months to seven years behind bars. Additionally, Tom’s wife files a civil wrongful death suit. As Kate struggles to protect their son, Josh, and make ends meet financially, Jacob has to do what he can to protect himself and try to help them from prison. He joins a white supremacist prison gang and quickly gets in deep.
I suspect that those who liked Breaking Bad will enjoy Shot Caller. The film takes a similar look at the evolution of one man as he descends into a life of crime and also similarly portrays hyper-masculinity as a survival tool in prison that does not work as well on the outside.
Thematically, Shot Caller is compelling. It is scary how quickly Jacob, Kate and Tom’s lives could be changed so completely and watching Jacob change individually was intriguing. The performances are also very strong. Lake Bell and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau have great chemistry that makes it harder to watch as things fall apart. Coster-Waldau carries most of the film’s action and his almost super-human calmness adds a great deal of tension to emotional scenes. His character often boils over into violence and these moments are crucial, but not overplayed.
I think a critical flaw in Shot Caller is a lack of balance in the plot. Alongside the story of Jacob, Kate and the gang is interwoven the story of law enforcement agents following Jacob aka “Money” as he orchestrates a big firearms deal. This plot is necessary for moving the whole story forward, but it does not resonate as much as when the action follows Jacob himself. At the end of the film, it felt like a means to an end, rather than a story with characters who added anything to the emotional punch of the film.
Shot Caller is a very slow burn that sometimes meanders too much, but it is carefully shot, strongly acted and offers an interesting story. 3.5 of 5 stars
Shot Caller is in theaters now or available to rent on iTunes. It was written and directed by Ric Roman Waugh and runs 2 hours and 2 minutes. Rated R.
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