Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

After twenty five years in the hole, in director David Weaver’s Crime Thriller ‘The Samaritan’, Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) is getting out.  Back in the day, Foley was a grifter, a confidence man, a runner of games, a unique choice of a crime endeavor in that it involves an unusually high level of trust amongst a group of people who are, by their nature and their chosen profession, notoriously untrustworthy.  And as Foley will explain to us in some detail, it is this that led to him doing twenty five years of hard time.  All of his old friends are dead, dying, or maimed and the few that are alive want nothing to do with him, thus Foley just wants to live his life in peace until his eventual end.  Like that’s really going to happen.

Foley’s problems all stem around Ethan (Luke Kirby), the son of Foley’s best friend, this friend being the reason why Foley went to jail so long.  Ethan runs a club for the completely brutal, albeit erudite mobster Xavier (Tom Wilkinson), but Ethan is tired of doing working for this thug and wants to venture out on his own, but to do this he needs some seed money and he has a grift set up.  But it’s an old school grift, as he says, one that requires a level of knowledge and precision that only a seasoned veteran like Foley possesses.   Foley feels for the boy, feels like he owes the young man a little something, but he’s not doing any of that.  Besides, he’s met girl in the damaged and destructive heroin addict Iris (Ruth Negga).  Yeah… she looks like she’s a little young to be messing with this old dude, but they’re both messed up, they have deep scars and they can relate to each other in a very unique way.

The thing is that Ethan knows Iris pretty well too, and he knows a secret.  Ethan wants this scam he’s planning to go off so badly that he’s willing to do anything to anybody to make it happen and that means putting Foley in a terribly uncomfortable position, one that pretty much guarantees that Foley will do whatever Ethan wants.  To a degree at least because Ethan will take his share of Foley induced lumps on his way to pulling off this scam.

The elements for the grift are in place, the mark is set, the trap is laid.  Until, of course, it all goes to hell.  Normally, our professional con man would’ve scuttled the con, but Ethan will not and cannot hear this and adjust the rules on the fly, which only serve to upset Foley even more.  Millions are on the table, lives are in the balance and deception is everywhere.

‘The Samaritan’ is a tough, gritty, grimy swiftly paced crime thriller that benefits the most from Samuel L. Jackson delivering one of the best performances he’s laid down in years.  With the character of Foley, Mr. Jackson doesn’t leave a lot on the bone when it comes to deciphering what kind of character Foley is, since the character is so raw and so open.  He’s tired, he’s miserable, he’s lonely, he’s not a terrible person but he has done some terrible things, but he’s also compassionate, understanding and loyal.  There’s nothing about Foley that rings false or contrived… the story he’s in, maybe at times… but the character is the truth. 

Character is the key to this film, Ruth Negga as Iris giving us a character that was almost as raw as what Samuel L. Jackson presented with Foley, tough, beautiful but vulnerable, and Luke Kirby was able to give a little more with his villainous character of Ethan, largely driven by greed but also to lesser degree the betrayal of his father by Foley.  To a much lesser degree, because the character is doing what he’s doing to get paid first and foremost.  Tom Wilkinson is a great actor, but he was used more as a set prop than anything else, so I guess if you can convince Tom Wilkinson to show up in your movie to do next to nothing except be mean, then this is what you do.  This is the thing that ends up separating ‘The Samaritan’ from other crime thrillers in that it is a character driven piece as opposed to one that centers on action.  It has its share of action, but it is largely used to complement and not detract from what the actors are doing on screen. 

The story supporting these fine performances, maybe feeling a little familiar due to the existence a certain Korean thriller released a few years back, is a solid one but once we get past the point of the relationship between Foley and Iris, it falls into being routine.  It follows a familiar path which doesn’t contain a lot of surprises, though I can see the filmmakers trying to mix things up a bit with the endgame, but that was a little on the wacky side which didn’t feel all that ‘natural’, but it still ended up concluding as I would’ve expected, which was a little disappointing. 

Still, if you like your crime thrillers well acted and filled with raw emotion, Samuel L. Jackson and ‘The Samaritan’ is one of the best examples of a movie, with those elements in high standard, that we’ve seen in an awful long time.

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