Review of The Samaritan

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After spending twenty years in prison, Foley (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is released and when he meets an elusive young woman named Iris (Ruth Negga), the possibility of a new start looks real. But his past is proving to be standing in the way.
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Movie Review: "The Samaritan" --

Rating: NR (not rated)
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: May 18, 2012
Directed by: David Weaver
Genre: Thriller
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

In "The Samaritan," Samuel L. Jackson gets to show some real acting chops as Foley, an ex-con who was just released from prison after 25 years behind bars. He served the long term because he was forced to kill a fellow con man. Upon release, an older, wiser and weary Foley vows never to go to jail again.

To fulfill his vow to avoid prison, Foley must stay out of trouble. He gives it a valiant effort, securing a construction job and heading straight home most nights. He makes the mistake one day of going back to one of his old haunts, which sets the rest of the plot in motion.

At the bar, he finds out from bartender Bill (Gil Bellows) that most of the old friends that Foley used to hang out with are either dead or in prison. This information is probably good news for Foley, since it keeps him away from his old habits. What it does instead is make him feel truly alone in the world. His loneliness is palpable. From his sparsely decorated apartment to his lack of friends and confidants, Foley is all alone.

All good crime thrillers, particularly those with a film noir twist, must have a woman enter the picture. In the case of "The Samaritan," that woman is a young drug addict named Iris (Ruth Negga), who at first seems harmless. She is tiny and looks like a hard wind could blow her over. Indeed, her small voice and frame make her seem defenseless. Foley is instantly attracted to her because he feels like he could be her defender. There is a big part of him that needs some kind of redemption for his crimes, and Iris could be the key to that redemption.

The problem is that Foley has no idea that Iris is working with Ethan (Luke Kirby), the son of the man he killed. Ethan has already approached Foley several times about helping him in a con that could set them both up for life. One more con, and neither of them would ever have to worry about money again. It is called a "Samaritan con"-hence the name of the movie.

A Samaritan con is particularly egregious because it requires the scammer to befriend the mark. The scammer poses as a friend who wants to lend the mark a helping hand, then disappears with the money long before the mark figures out what happened. Not only is the mark left penniless, but there is usually some emotional fallout as well, as the con preys on the mark's sense of friendship and decency.

In the same way, Ethan tries to prey on Foley's sense of decency and friendship. He constantly reminds Foley that he was the one who left him fatherless all those years before. He plays on the sense of guilt Foley must feel for having shot and killed his father. Somehow, Foley still manages to repeatedly refuse Ethan.

Ethan is not one to go away quietly. At first, the audience thinks that he is just very stubborn and always gets what he wants. Later, they find out that his life is on the line if he does not get Foley to take part in the con. A crime boss by the name of Xavier (Tom Wilkinson) has told Ethan that he will die if he doesn't pull off the con job. That is when Ethan springs into action and gets Iris involved.

In the final act of the film, the secrets that all the major players have been hiding begin to unravel. They intertwine and get tangled, and the result is that everyone must work together to bring down Xavier and live to see another day. The problem is that they don't trust each other, making it harder to work together. The suspense becomes intense as people are forced to trust some very untrustworthy people with no clue as to what the eventual outcome could be.

Jackson turns in a nuanced performance as the man whose guilt and need for redemption may ultimately get him killed. Wilkinson, who usually plays buttoned-up characters, gets to ham it up as the big crime boss who has no sense of morality. Though he only has a handful of scenes in the film, he manages to chew up the scenery in every one of them. He nearly steals the show, but the superb acting of Jackson (who also served as a producer) manages to be the highlight of this modern-day film noir.