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The Samaritan (Frank's take)

1/06/2012. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy The Samaritan in the USA - or Buy The Samaritan in the UK

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Filmmaker David Weaver’s The Samaritan is a lightweight neo-noir that means well but never musters up enough credible tension to deem it distinctively intriguing. Besides a catchy title and cinema’s favourite reliable on-screen badass Samuel L. Jackson at the helm, The Samaritan misses the mark as a crime caper tiptoeing as a moody psychosexual thriller.

Slow paced, sluggish and clichéd, Weaver’s solemn narrative aims straight forward in the confines of schmaltz and mechanical cynicism.

The Samaritan is one piece of long-winded pulp fiction (no pun intended towards Mr. Jackson) that tries too hard to convince the audience of its workman-like introspection. Writer-director Weaver and co-writer Elan Mastai wants their sombre storytelling to convey a caustic conviction of deception while employing tactical twists and turns with a backdrop of murder, sex and redemption all rolled into a blanket of corrosion. However the stagy tough-minded dialogue, rudimentary suspenseful plotting and pseudo-edgy performances handicap The Samaritan as a half-baked conventional exposition with transparent titillation.

Jackson stars as Foley, a former con artist who has spent twenty-five years in prison. Now on the outside, Foley must try to resist the temptation in getting back into the grifting game that was responsible for his long term imprisonment. Of course it will not be easy for the conflicted Foley to stay on the path of the straight and narrow especially when an agitator named Ethan (Luke Kirby) enters the picture and tries to convince the ex-con otherwise.

Ethan’s backstory is such that he is the son of Foley’s late crime partner. During a grift gone sour Foley was presented with an unusual dilemma—either kill Ethan’s old man or die with him in the process. Naturally Foley elected to save his own skin as Ethan’s daddy dearest died with Foley as the executioner. Now the ambitious Ethan wants to recruit his father’s murderer/co-con artist and recreate some magical mayhem into criminal activities. The question remains as follows: will Foley join Ethan and get back into the racket out of a.) the guilt of killing Ethan’s father and b.) because he instinctively yearns for the con artistry that he cannot shake out of his beleaguered system? Go ahead…take a wild guess, folks.

As if Ethan’s pressurised prompting is not enough to confuse the perplexing Foley, he is seduced by the young con’s drugged-out diva Iris (Ruth Negga), a hooker with a magnetic hold on the mature ex-jailbird. Conveniently, the ageing Foley forges an unlikely romantic bond with the youthful substance-abusing, tricks-turning tart Iris. This is an obvious symbolic connection of two lost souls finding comfort in each other’s self-inflicted miseries.

Throughout the years, Jackson has been criticised for the usual flippant roguish roles that are his impish trademark. The swaggering cad with the colorful cursing and menacing presence, Jackson has always been a transfixing fixture with a stylish undercurrent of rage. Interestingly, Jackson plays it much safer as a quieter rage warrior more in reflective mode than reactionary. Jackson comes off as rather indifferent and stiff by the stilted material he is asked to carry on his shoulders. This is probably the one time where detractors of Jackson’s mouthy malcontent would welcome his shock value shtick in this particular morose melodrama.

The supporting cast is serviceable at best. Kirby’s Ethan has some inspired fun as the resident Dennis the Menace with the bratty enthusiasm for walking on the edge of lawlessness. As the femme fatale, Negga’s Iris has a spirited spiciness that gets smothered by the dullness of the potboiler proceedings. Veteran actor Tom Wilkinson (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) shows up and chews the scenery as a baddie with twisted tastes that entertains with mixed results.

Wooden and atmospheric, The Samaritan does not contain the piercing punch needed to uplift this tepid topsy-turvy pulp thriller from its routine sip in lukewarm jarring juiciness. Although Jackson is quite admirable in assuming restraint and a human weariness to his ambivalent culprit-on-the-mend, he deserved better to allow his stand-by bouncy explosiveness to fuel this sputtering vehicle of temptation.

The Samaritan (IFC Films)
1 hr. 33 mins.
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Ruth Negga, Tom Wilkinson, Luke Kirby
Directed by: David Weaver
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Crime/Suspense & Mystery

Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

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