[Review] – The Samaritan

2 Jun

Title: The Samaritan
Year: 2012
Director: David Weaver
Writers: David Weaver and Elan Mastai
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Luke Kirby, Ruth Negga, Tom Wilkinson, Gil Bellows, Aaron Poole
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 90 min
IMDb Rating: 5.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%
Metacritic: 37

Samuel L. Jackson is a pretty badass guy, we can all agree on that, right? He’s Jules Winnfield, Shaft, Frozone, Nick Fury, and that guy who’s had it with the motherfucking snakes on the motherfucking plane. Ideally, had his latest film, The Samaritan, ended up being good, we could have added the role of Foley to that list of great kickass characters the screen icon has created. Unfortunately, not only is the film not good at all, but Mr. Jackson isn’t even doing his usual thing in it, instead just dully delivering lines without any kind of meaning or emotion.

The film tries hard to be this kind of gritty, down-and-dirty neo-noir sort of film, with Mr. Jackson’s Foley at its center as an ex-con who’s done twenty-five in prison, and who’s ready to lead a straight and clean life, to get a new start in a way, accompanied by a much younger woman called Iris, played by Ruth Negga. But, uh oh, you can’t just escape your past as easy as that, surely Samuel L. Jackson would know that, so it comes as no surprise when Luke Kirby‘s character, Ethan, comes a-knockin’, the son of Foley’s old con partner, who has a role for Ethan in a new job he has lined up. Way back when, Foley had to choose between killing Ethan’s dad, or dying alongside him, which is what got him to serve twenty-five in prison, and, as Ethan figures it, Foley’s in his debt.

Had this one played out as a lighter fare, a sort of fun caper kind of film, I actually could have seen The Samaritan working, or at least working far better than it does here. Instead, you have a movie that kind of forces Mr. Jackson to reach into his bag of old tricks, and recycle stuff he’s done plenty of times in lots of other roles, which is mostly deliver lines that, when singled out in a trailer or promo clip, can look pretty awesome, but then you realize the context in which they’re used here, and it sucks, and Mr. Jackson just looked kind of bored delivering them, actually.

I mean, Mr. Jackson is a hardworking actor, even if some of that hard work is done merely to cash in paychecks, but this is a film that just doesn’t know how to use him. It doesn’t know how to use him for a number of reasons; firstly, like I said, this film plays out like this noir when it should have been something lighter for him to go full-on and at least be fun in a campy sort of way; secondly, he doesn’t even get the best material to really chew up the scenes, it’s instead Tom Wilkinson in a villainous role that gets all the really juicy bits; and, thirdly (and this is all on Mr. Jackson himself, actually) he doesn’t take opportunity of the different things he could have done with the role in the more emotional kind of stuff with the Iris character.

There were just a number of things that I couldn’t really get why they happened in this film. For instance, I never once bought into the Iris character because Ms. Negga, in what Paste Magazine’s Annlee Ellingson referred to, ever so accurately, as “the Thandie Newton” role, wasn’t convincing as neither a suicidal junkie nor as a love interest to a man more than double her age. And I didn’t buy the whole attempt to make this one a neo-noir, because it was just all over our faces in how it went about doing that, with the visuals and the color palette just trying too hard to sell this one as the type of movie it really would have been better off not being.

It’s just really bad, how the movie packs so many genre clichés in its ninety-minute running time, with a bunch of lines that are repeated over and over again to cause some sort of dramatic effect but truly failing to do so, and some twists that you can see coming from a mile away, and one that even if  you didn’t will be pretty disgusting once you find out about it. And, more importantly, there’s just no tension whatsoever in this film, you never once feel the stakes because you never once buy into any of this. You don’t buy into an ex-con who’s supposedly trying to fix his life and yet the moment he gets out of jail he starts visiting the places he frequented when he was a grifter. And then there’s the big con the movie’s supposedly all about, which is not only far from big and impressive, but it’s also rather ridiculous, too.

“Nothing changes unless you make it change” is one of those lines the film repeats over and over again to you so that it can sound super serious. Maybe it was that sense of repetition that made Mr. Jackson seem kind of bored with this role. Or maybe it was just that, that sense of seriousness about itself that this movie presented, that made it crumble down under its own weight, bloated by twists and turns we’ve all seen before.

Grade: D+


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