‘Nothing changes unless you make it change,” intones recently paroled grifter Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) in The Samaritan, a repeated mantra not subscribed to by David Weaver’s by-the-books criminal redemption saga. Released after 25 years behind bars for killing his partner during a con gone awry, Foley quickly finds the old life hard to escape—particularly because his murdered best friend’s son, Ethan (Luke Kirby), is determined to blackmail Foley into participating in an $8 million swindle that involves entrapping Foley in a romantic relationship with young drug addict Iris (Ruth Negga). Weaver’s panoramas of glittering nighttime skyscrapers contribute to a mood of ominous melancholy, and Jackson is surprisingly low-key, evoking Foley’s guilt, despair, and fear of repeating past mistakes with minimal quiet-LOUD histrionics. A hilarious mid-narrative bombshell lends just enough B-movie tawdriness to the film’s otherwise rote scenario, and a scene-chewing Tom Wilkinson, as a nefarious bigwig in league with Ethan, brings similar, if too brief, cheesiness to the action. As it crawls toward its climactic scam, however, Weaver’s story slowly begins to buckle under the weight of its own self-seriousness and familiarity, concluding with a showdown and resolution marked by one implausible and unsatisfying been-here-done-that twist after another.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 16, 2012