New to DVD this week from IFC Films, laconic and brooding crime thriller The Samaritan features Samuel L. Jackson as an emotionally scarred former con man dragged painfully back into grifting by the son of his murdered friend and business associate. The film is thick with a heady and illicit sexual atmosphere, but despite jerky plotting and a heavily padded story, its moody melodrama makes it at least a mildly entertaining guilty pleasure.
Following an extended stay in prison for murdering his best friend and long-term accomplice, Foley (Jackson) aims to keep his head down, hold down a legitimate job, and avoid any trouble from his parole officer. Foley’s plans are disrupted when he comes home one night to his darkened apartment and discovers Ethan (Luke Kirby), the son of his murdered associate, who seems affable enough initially, but soon reveals his ambitions to rope Foley into a fresh and incredibly lucrative con job. Foley’s resistance is adamant at first, but when his blossoming relationship with young and troubled Iris (Ruth Negga) is threatened by Ethan’s increasingly twisted machinations, Foley has no choice but to surrender his doubts and go along with the grift.
For a crime movie, The Samaritan is relatively light on action, although it does manage to work in plenty of gore and gunshot wounds. The rest of the movie is organized around a thick band of sexual tension and tragic romantic melodrama, which occasionally resonates, but often ends up shouting itself out. The film’s premise hinges on a left-field second act twist that sets off a domino effect of amplified, twisty theatricality. While it’s often bombastic enough to remain entertaining, the meticulous, dialogue-laden slowness of its first half seems even more annoyingly superfluous once the second half begins to devolve into a flailing soap opera.
Despite its unevenness, The Samaritan definitely has a few strong points, including solid performances from Jackson and Tom Wilkinson (against type, playing a snarling and effete criminal billionaire), some good montage editing, and a very pretty and frequently semi-nude female lead. IFC’s disc contains a whole lot of nothing besides the film and a trailer, but the movie looks fine and gets a snazzy widescreen presentation. Its pointedly heavy emotionally dynamics are too mishandled to feel genuinely involving, but they’re still weird enough to maintain interest, and sort of almost offset the poor pacing and padded narrative. Basically a fun movie if you don’t pay attention to it too much.