Samuel L. Jackson Seeks Redemption in The Samaritan
With crowds predictably crowding The Avengers, I thought I’d take a look at Samuel L. Jackson’s other film for this season. The Samaritan, playing without much fanfare at the University District’s Grand Illusion Cinema through June 7th, takes all the tropes, all the bright ribbons of the suspense-grifter-thriller and gives them room to breathe. Unfortunately for its protagonist and several people around him, some breaths hurt to take.
Yes, it seems simple enough in synopsis: The con, Foley (Jackson, also listed as a co-executive producer). His release, after 25 years, for putting a bullet in the head of a man we see on his knees, in front of the gun, in the film’s first shot–a man who turns out to be Foley’s old partner. Foley trying to go straight and check in with his parole officer. The devil in Foley’s ear, Ethan (Luke Kirby), son of Foley’s old dead dome-shot partner: Slick, flamboyant, not a hair out of place (just like his father before the bullet), dancing around what he actually wants until he steps up to Foley’s chin and demands it. The woman, Iris (Ruth Negga), young and beautiful but certainly too learned in the streets to be called a girl, majestic in her cheekbones and soft but skeptical eyes. The mark, Tom Wilkinson, who can play an upper-class saint or a refrigerated-heart monster with only minute variations of facial muscle between them. Here, of course, he can’t be the good guy. Jackson’s big enough, in all ways, for a movie full of them.
Director David Weaver uses Jackson’s classic facets–the wide eyes, the stilted, proclaiming diction when driven to passion–but lets them have their moments, rather than cattle-prodding action along. The Big Con plays second fiddle to Foley’s struggle for, if not redemption (from a negative number to a positive number), at least absolution (from a negative number to zero).
Other directors, even talented and subtle ones such as Neil LaBute with Lakeview Terrace, end up using Jackson as a symbolized prop manipulated patently by external forces–complete with Jackson’s character lying lifeless in the Jesus Christ Pose at the end of that one. For The Samaritan, Foley wields a big gun for the money shots but his circumstances, and his struggles, end up in other onscreen characters’ hands even as he tries to pull them back to his bosom. And no matter how convoluted and unlikely the plot (especially the last half hour), the people keep acting like real people. I’m only sorry how nobody real’s buying.