A Toronto-based twisty drama is a slow-burn speaking about being, doing and change in trying to maintain a thoughtful, wistful approach.
The Samaritan stars Samuel L. Jackson, Luke Kirby, Ruth Negga and Tom Wilkinson in a tale where characters aren't always able to realize they're at a disadvantage. It's the more modest cousin of something like Confidence and less accomplished than Stephen Frears's The Grifters. The premise will remind views of many types in the genre, particularly of studio sequels, or ones like The Score which brought Marlon Brando together with Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton.
Still, Jackson (currently in Marvel's The Avengers as covert organization director Nick Fury which may have led to the film's name change) uses enough of his actorly intensity for a while, dialing it down a bit as philosophizing ex-con Foley. The opening shows what led to a long prison term and now Foley looks to start anew with none of his old friends around.
The storyline, collaborated on by Elan Mastai and director David Weaver (known for his Canadian small-screen endeavors), has Foley now at the behest of his best friend's son Ethan (Kirby of Shattered Glass) employed by wine-loving businessman Xavier (Wilkinson). With Ethan wanting to be a player on a "false good Samaritan" scam, Foley is drawn back into an unsavory past. The first revelation comes by way of Foley's connection to Ethan relatively early, and the more surprising one comes near the midway point. A titular plan to be entrusted to the "mark" has Foley involved with a much younger, alluring call-girl Iris, an enigmatic and inviting Negga (Breakfast on Pluto), who is also in an emotional tailspin.
The filmmaking, under a watchable widescreen umbra-like sheen (to give a locational shoot -partially in Cuba - a retro feel) with simple segue-ways, comes off in neo-noir fashion with Negga the femme-fatale figure with many a diversionary tactic building to some dark, high subterfuge involving Foley, Ethan, and Xavier that takes it all into some familiar lurid, eerie territory. One that ferments around the tale's double-dealings, but more constricting than grimly gratifying.
The deepest impact of what can also be called a morality tale is the way Jackson and Negga light up the screen especially as the relationship of Foley and Iris opens up to the viciousness around them. By contrast, Wilkinson isn't able to do much with a rote, underwritten role that makes him more of a pawn in the grand scheme of things, while Deborah Kara Unger hardly registers as an able accomplice. For a while, Weaver and Mastai imbue The Samaritan with plausibly gritty and insinuating touches that Jackson embraces like in past low-budgeters like The Caveman's Valentine. However, it ultimately stings false rather than good through the art of the grift which doesn't come to the aid of its capable performers.