The Samaritan treads a fine line between film-noir moodiness and crime-thriller triteness, mostly settling for the latter. It could have taken advantage of its perennially nocturnal atmosphere. Instead, it packs its narrative with a succession of increasingly clichéd twists, one of which involves the sudden recognition that its main character, Foley (Samuel L. Jackson), is romantically involved with his own daughter.
After a 25-year stint in prison for being forced to kill his best friend, Foley just wants to stay out of trouble. But it seems that he’s an anti-Midas of sorts: “Everything I touch turns to shit.” He must enjoy it, though, as he keeps going back to a bar from his old grifting days, the Apollo Lounge, still owned and frequented by hardcore suit-wearing criminals, and where Ethan (Luke Kirby), the son of the friend Foley had to kill, tries to lure him back into a life of crime. Foley is soon romantically involved with a sexy junkie, Iris (the great Ruth Negga), who owes Ethan more than she could ever pay, and even confesses to Foley that she’s been sent to woo him.
If the incest revelation was a hard one to take in Incendies, the gravitas-lacking The Samaritan doesn’t stand a chance. Armed with the knowledge of the incest, Ethan is able to force Foley into a very complex grifting scheme, which will, of course, go very wrong. Not only for Foley, but for the audience, with lines like “Nothing changes unless you make it change” repeated ad nauseam, just in case we missed the filmmaker’s intentions. By the time the action gets so close to camp you almost want to avert your eyes, or ears (“What do you want from me?!”), we’ve already had to endure overtly sentimental piano notes weaving together all the supposedly emotional moments, including the unavoidable nightmare/flashback scene from which Foley wakes up, surprisingly, without a scream. At least they didn’t cast Mickey Rourke.