The Danish actor plays a white-collar everyman who morphs into a badass prison crime lord after being locked up for vehicular manslaughter.
"You gotta stand up for yourself because once you're marked in there, it will never end," a fellow inmate tells him at the outset of his 10-year sentence, right before Coster-Waldau clocks a prison bully in the yard.
"A place like this forces us to become warriors or victims. The only thing that matters is you getting home to your family in one piece," another inmate advises.
In short order, the clean-cut businessman begins running with the big dogs, inciting prison riots and even grows a bushy beard, much to the horror of his dutiful wife played by Lake Bell, who, incidentally, was a former Maxim cover girl.
But his gang affiliations, which helped him survive in the system, follow him after his release.
"A newly released prison gangster is forced by the leaders of his gang to orchestrate a major crime with a brutal rival gang on the streets of Southern California," the film's synopsis reads.
The film is directed by Ric Roman Waugh, who released a flick with a similar concept—Felon—back in 2008 to middling reviews.
But Shot Caller, which is comes from the producers of Drive, Nightcrawler and Snitch, garnered rave reviews at its Los Angeles Film Festival premiere.
The Hollywood Reporter described it as "riveting" and a "crime and punishment" tale told "in vivid American style."
Shot Caller hits theaters on August 18.