What’s really unfortunate about the film is how routine it becomes. It’s is a miss, but not by much.
The Samaritan is something of an enigma to me. I honestly wasn’t expecting too much from the film as the previews really didn’t intrigue me too much. The film starts out with some promise and along with the casting choices (Tom Wilkinson and Samuel L. Jackson are two major players), I start thinking that this could actually be something worthwhile. For a while, it actually is. The Samaritan begins with a bang. Literally. The first scene has Jackson pointing a gun at a man’s head. The man begs for his life. It doesn’t work.
The film starts out with our hero, Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) who is getting out of prison after twenty plus years. Foley was a grifter and plans on starting over. He wants nothing to do with his former life. Grifting to me is a fascinating lifestyle. Your life revolves around conning people out of money. When I was younger I used to have these film noir fantasies that I, along with others, would travel the country planning elaborate cons. The great thing about being a grifter, other than the potentially vast amounts of money you could amass, is that you can essentially be who you aren’t. You got to make up biographies and be someone that you weren’t.
So Foley is now out of prison and ready to start over. He meets his parole officer and he tells Foley what every parole officer in every other movie tells him. You make one mistake you’re going back in. Foley already has no intention of going back. He is given a job at a construction site, one which he hates but takes it because anything is better than prison.
Foley spends his nights at bars drinking his ugly memories away. I experienced this first hand years ago when I worked a construction job. I myself never really hit the bars after work, but knew many who did. It’s an ugly lifestyle, although Foley has plenty more to drink about than any of my coworkers did. On one of these late nights Foley runs into a man who brings back some dark moments in his life. The man is Ethan. We find out that Ethan is the son of Foley’s ex-grifting partner. Oh yeah, he’s also the son of the man who is shot in the opening scene. Ethan doesn’t want revenge, but he does believe Foley owes him a favor. Ethan wants one more job out of Foley that will make them both rich.
Ethan insists Foley joins him at a nightclub one night. Ethan half owns the night club with another man who is a ruthless. His name is Xavier (Tom Wilkinson). Our first scene with Xavier has him shoving a broken Champaign bottle into a man’s face repeatedly. Even more relevant during this nightclub visit, Foley is offered a young woman for the night by Ethan. He declines the offer, even insulted by it.
On one of these dark and depressing nights at his favorite spot, Foley sips on his drink when all of a sudden the young woman offered to him previously walks in with a man who is heavily intoxicated. They drink more through the night and eventually make their way into the bathroom where the man tries to rape the woman. Her name is Iris. Foley comes in to save the day and now the woman is actually smitten with him.
This starts an actual very sweet part of the film. Iris and Foley begin a legitimate relationship, one that benefits them both. Foley fresh out of prison has something real to cling on to, someone who will seemingly take him away from his past. Iris a young woman addicted to drugs and is in the wrong business as a prostitute, now she has a man who genuinely loves her and not because he’s paying for it. But remember in film noir, nothing or no one is ever what they seem. There is always a dark current that runs under what is visible. The Samaritan is no different, bad things are coming.
What happens next will not be described here. The film actually has some pretty interesting twists and turns. One of them, I had no clue was coming and the handling of it is pitch perfect. What I enjoyed mostly about The Samaritan was how much the film depends on characters and their choices and not by having to fill the plot of a movie. These people make their own choices based on who they are and their wants and needs.
What makes Samaritan interesting is that it really doesn’t have a plot. It’s more or less a character study that just unfolds for 90 minutes. For the first hour of the film you just watch these characters as they are basically trying to get by, it’s not until the hour mark when something really galvanizes the movie to something remotely close to a plot. I actually kind of liked that.
One thing I’ve always struggled with film noirs is how they keep the viewers at a distance from their characters. Most characters in film noirs are bad people with bright spots. The Samaritan is no different. I’ve always found it hard to root for people when the film keeps you far from them. The film does a good job of letting you get close to a couple, but others that are important you’re left wondering why you should care for them.
What’s really unfortunate about the film is how routine it becomes. As a film noir you know certain things have to happen in order for the plot to succeed. The last 15-20 minutes of the film goes down the same old road most film noirs have gone before. It’s too bad because The Samaritan actually showed some real promise by dancing to its own tune. It’s too bad that tune becomes the same old song and dance. It’s is a miss, but not by much