On screen, Samuel L. Jackson is the definition of cool.
He looks cool, he walks cool, he talks cool, he even yells cool. His icy stare cuts through the souls of those before him, his hulking figure frightens the manliest of men. When he screams about snakes on a plane, we listen. No wonder Tarantino loves this guy.
"The Samaritan," out on DVD Sept. 25 after spending all of one week in three theaters nationwide, won't change my opinion of Jackson (he's still icy cool), but it doesn't do anything to boost his reputation, either.
"Samaritan" casts Jackson as a man just out of prison after spending 25 years for murder. He is an ex con man and now he's trying to stay on the straight and narrow despite his past seeping into his first days of freedom. He is approached by the son of the man he killed and offered a con. He refuses and ends up meeting a young and attractive woman, building what appears to be a new life. Where the film goes from there is for you to find out. There's just too many twists and turns to give away.
"Samaritan" sounds like a noir. It even feels like a noir at times. In fact, Jackson's performance is something meant for a good ol' slice of pulp fiction. The script and direction never quite lift this film up to the very best of that genre. For the first 40 minutes, the only real enjoyable aspect of "The Samaritan" is its central performance. Jacksondoes some great work here and proves his worth as a true actor. But the script lacks focus. It doesn't know if it wants to focus on a blossoming romance, the criminal underworld or the difficulties of being an ex con. It tries to juggle all three, but fails to bring any meaning to any of these ideas.
About halfway through the film, there is a clever twist that seems ripped from the pages of a best noir. This twist gives hope that the film will pick up steam and reach the level of genuine emotion it clearly strives for. After the twist, "Samaritan" loses what little focus it has. Next thing you know, the film tries juggling another theme, all about the art of the con, but it feels false and half baked.
Tom Wilkinson shows up for no reason, and the other actors around Jackson do a good enough job but aren't given enough to work with. We also never get a sense of what Jackson's character did before or after prison and exactly why he did it. Jackson is pumping a lot of work and emotion into a character that doesn't seem to be too thought out. If he was, then it isn't evidenced on screen.
The imagery in "The Samaritan" should have been more captivating, with long alleys, musty smelling taxis and smoke rising into the polluted city air. The script should have felt finessed. Instead, the direction is quiet (though still professional) and the script is too jumbled (though full of surprises). The only recommendation one can make for "The Samaritan" is Jackson's pitch-perfect performance.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh. But, "The Samaritan" had great potential. Any film with Jackson does. The story does give us some fine elements and the technical aspects to the film are handled well, but "The Samaritan" never takes off. It just stands by while its leading man does all the leg work.
The DVD offers no special features except for a theatrical trailer.