Saturday, May 19, 2012

Movie Review: The Samaritan

The Samaritan * ½
Directed by: David Weaver.
Written by: Elan Mastai and David Weaver.
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (Foley), Luke Kirby (Ethan), Ruth Negga (Iris), Tom Wilkinson (Xavier), Gil Bellows (Bartender Bill), Aaron Poole (Jake), Tom McCamus (Deacon), Martha Burns (Gretchen), Stephen Eric McIntyre (Landlord), Alan C. Peterson (Miro), Deborah Kara Unger (Helena), Rob Archer (Vernon Hicks), Diana Leblanc (Celia).

The key to a good con movie is that it has to work on two levels – the con within the movie has to be smart and realistic, and that the movie itself has to con the audience into believing one thing, and then pull the rug out from under you later on. David Mamet is a master at this – in films like House of Games. The reason why The Samaritan fails as a movie is because it fails on both of those levels. The con in the movie itself is almost an afterthought, ill-conceived and rushed through. And as for conning the audience, The Samaritan doesn’t even really try. It proceeds on its well-worn path to its inevitable conclusion. In short, it’s quite simply dull.

Samuel L. Jackson plays Foley, who has just been released from prison after serving 25 years for murdering his one-time grifting partner. The son of the man he killed, Ethan (Luke Kirby) quickly tracks him down – but not out of anger or wanting to revenge, but to find out what happened and why. Oh, and he has a grift he wants to pull off, and knows Foley could help him out. He tries to entice Foley by setting him up with a pretty, younger woman named Iris (Ruth Negga). But things get more serious between Foley and Iris than anyone really thought – they fall in love. But dark secrets from the past keep coming up.

The first half of The Samaritan is a slow slog. The film spends too much time trying to set up the different characters and their relationships to each other. What should take 20 minutes, takes 45, as the film beats a dead horse for fall too long. Also, it’s clear from the beginning that the movie is holding back information, and personally, I grew frustrated that the movie was playing games – and even more frustrated that those games never really paid off.

Samuel L. Jackson is a good actor – and he could play a character like Foley in his sleep, and in many ways he does. He keeps the same beaten down, tired expression on his face throughout the movie. There`s none of the usual anger or passion that Jackson normally brings to his roles. Luke Kirby is telegraphs his untrustworthiness from the outset – there is nothing subtle or particularly involving about his performance. As Iris, Ruth Negga is a blank slate – bring zero emotion to her performance, despite the journey her character is supposed to go through. Tom Wilkinson, who plays the mark little more than a cameo is doing some sort of weird accent that makes no sense.

The bottom line about The Samaritan is that it just isn’t very involving. The screenplay and direction is too by the numbers and the performances lack any real interest. The movie never really goes anywhere – it takes far too long to get there.

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