Judge Clark Douglas once went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He saw this gross wounded guy on the side of road and fled.
Redemption comes at a high price.
"You've got to know a secret to tell a secret."
Facts of the Case
Foley (Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Brown) used to be one of the best con men in the business. Alas, his career was brought to a halt after he killed his partner and was given a lengthy prison sentence. After spending twenty-five years in a cell, Foley is determined to lead a simple, crime-free existence, but someone is eager to pull him back in: Ethan (Luke Kirby, Tell Me You Love Me), the son of Foley's former partner. Foley initially turns down Ethan's scheme to rob a powerful mobster (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton), but Ethan may have more than one negotiating tactic up his sleeve. Meanwhile, Foley begins developing a relationship with a drug-addicted call girl named Iris (Ruth Negga, Misfits), who dreams of starting a better life with her newfound love. Will Foley's efforts to begin a simple life of peace prevail?
It takes a little while for The Samaritan to get cooking, but once things start falling into place it becomes a surprisingly riveting experience. Some of the opening scenes seem to be running through a series of noir conventions: the tired ex-con who's done with a life of crime but is being asked to pull one last job, the violent mobster who needs to be taken down, the hooker with a heart of gold, etc. The first act is the film's clunkiest, as it occasionally feels like it's merely imitating genre flicks of decades past rather than establishing its own identity. Thankfully, the conventional set-up proves to be its own sort of con game, and the film eventually reveals itself as something considerably more surprising and compelling than we expected.
The Samaritan was co-written and directed by David Weaver, whose resume consists of a diverse mixture of low-budget theatrical releases, made-for-TV movies and obscure television shows. Though I haven't seen any of his earlier work, my initial impression is that Weaver is a better writer than he is a director. The story he's penned (co-written by Elan Mastai) features some thoughtful characterization and a handful of genuinely surprising plot developments (though the ones which are surprising due to narrative sleight-of-hand are more impressive than the ones which are surprising due to their silliness). In the hands of a stronger director, we could have been looking at a film worthy of comparison to The Grifters. Unfortunately, Weaver lays on the noir atmosphere a little too forcefully and makes the mistake of rushing through a string of new developments during the film's closing reel. Even so, these basic mistakes aren't enough to significantly damage the power or intrigue of the story.
That's partially due to the performance of Samuel L. Jackson as Foley. It's a mostly-restrained turn from Jackson, who reminds us once again of what a remarkable actor he can be when he's given a meaty role (Jackson may demonstrate great enthusiasm for his big-budget popcorn efforts in interviews, but there's an enormous gap between the quality of his work in something like this or The Sunset Limited and his work in flicks like Star Wars, XxX and The Avengers). It's during those first moments of connection he shares with Negga that the film first begins to come to life. In one tender moment, Iris asks Foley, "I'm a drug addict. Does that bother you?" Foley looks at Iris and sighs. "I'm a convicted murderer. Does that bother you?" There's such tired sadness in the way Jackson delivers that line.
Once the movie started throwing its narrative punches, I found myself glued to my seat. The movie packs a mean left hook, and as it proceeds it constantly find little ways to subvert expectations. A brief example: in one sequence, Foley discovers that Iris is in danger and that Ethan is responsible. Foley grabs his pistol and holds it at Ethan's head: "If anything has happened to her," he growls as he lowers the pistol and hands it to Ethan, "shoot yourself." Despite its many eyebrow-raising twists, the film never seems too in love with its own cleverness (a common and generally fatal mistake made by countless con movies) and never neglects its characters for the sake of action. The virtues are more than enough to compensate for the occasional rough patches.
The Samaritan (Blu-ray) is another middling IFC Blu-ray release, sporting a somewhat flat-looking 1080p/2.40:1 transfer. While the film is supposed to look dark and moody, the drabness of the image and lack of depth certainly doesn't help things much. It's never genuinely terrible (and the level of detail is admittedly satisfying enough throughout), but the movie certainly doesn't have the inky richness it ought to. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is decent enough, though the slightly-too-heavy original score (which goes a long way towards creating the impression that the movie is taking itself just a bit too seriously given the pulpiness of its material) seems turned up a bit loud in the mix at times. Dialogue is clear and the occasional sound design is well-captured. Supplements are limited to a theatrical trailer.
Critics generally disliked The Samaritan and audiences ignored it, but the film is better than its reputation would suggest. Despite its numerous flaws, it's involving, satisfying, and worth checking out.
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