THE SAMARITAN (2012)
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Luke Kirby, Ruth Negga, Tom Wilkinson, Gil Bellows, Tom McCamus, Martha Burns, Stephen McIntyre, Alan C. Peterson, Deborah Kara Unger, Rob Archer, Diana Leblanc, Naomi Snieckus, Farzad Sadrian, Rufus Crawford and Andrew Butcher.
Screenplay by Elan Mastai and David Weaver.
Directed by David Weaver.
Distributed by IFC Films. 93 minutes. Rated R.
The Samaritan starts with a kind of overdone premise – the ex-con trying hard to go straight after finishing a long jail term only to find everyone and thing around him trying to push him back into the criminal life.
However, surprisingly, The Samaritan does some really interesting, quirky things with this tired plotline, becoming a much more affecting and intriguing film than you see coming down the pike.
The lead character Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) is a former con man who spent 25 years in prison for killing his former partner in a scam gone badly wrong. Foley did the crime and quietly, patiently did the time, repenting for an act that he was forced into doing by an angry mark. Still, Foley makes no excuses and expects no forgiveness. Years in prison have changed his priorities. He had to pay his debt to society before he could reinvent himself into a smaller, more productive member of society.
Upon his release, Foley finds that pretty much everyone he knew before going behind bars is either dead or gone, reinforcing his desire to go straight and live a quiet life.
However, as anyone who has seen an ex-con movie knows, the world does not always allow people to try to change their ways.
Temptation – or fate – shows itself in the form of Ethan (Luke Kirby), a slimy club owner and mob guy who is the son of Foley's late partner. Ethan tries to get the story of his dad's death out of Foley, then recruit him for a con idea of his own. Foley is naturally skeptical of his motives and blows the kid off, but Ethan isn't the type of guy to take no for an answer.
Ethan uses a drug-addicted hooker (Negga) to gain leverage over Foley, making her try to seduce the older man and eventually using her in much more nefarious ways to keep Foley's allegiance.
In the meantime, the more that Foley is forced back into his old criminal ways, the more his survival instinct kicks in for him.
Ethan forces Foley and an equally unwilling woman accomplice (Deborah Kara Unger) to work a con game called "The Samaritan" on a savage British mobster (Tom Wilkinson) who was shown to be blood-thirsty earlier in the film. It is a bit puzzling, after the complexity of the storytelling leading up to it, how easily the mark falls into the con – in fact, he appears to be the driving force behind it.
This leads to a series of crosses and double-crosses, some of which are genuinely shocking.
Jackson can play this kind of role in his sleep, but he does it well here – even if you occasionally see the wheels turning, for example in one scene where Foley's gaze slowly becomes more and more threatening.
The other cast members are fine as well, Negga gives a full performance in the somewhat thankless role of the whore-with-the-heart-of-gold, Kirby is suitably slimy, Wilkinson (in a glorified cameo) is threatening, and Unger is nicely world weary.
The script moves on at an exciting clip until the very end, when some important plot points feel a bit rushed. But still the movie mostly works. The Samaritan isn't a perfect film, but it turns out that it's a lot better than you might have expected.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 5, 2012.