Samuel L. Jackson, apparently ageless, gets a gratifyingly meaty role in “The Samaritan,” a low-key character study wrapped inside a violent crime tale.
It’s hard to believe Jackson is 63, perhaps because he still carries the awesome authority that makes you suspect he could make mincemeat out of his younger colleagues in “The Avengers,” superpowers or no superpowers.
One reason “The Samaritan” is so welcome is that it gets Jackson out of the rut of paper-thin projects he’s been knocking around in for the last half-dozen years. Nothing against “Snakes on a Plane,” mind you, but it’s nice to see him play it straight.
In the opening sequence, his character is getting out of prison after a 25-year stint. Foley has served his time for the murder of his grifter partner, and he now has no prospects or friends.
But he has at least one nemesis: the son (Luke Kirby) of this dead partner, a sleazo who wants to enlist Foley for a big con job. Foley doesn’t want any part of it, but you know how that’s going to go.
The moody scenario that follows is much bigger than a mere con game, because of the young woman (Ruth Negga) connected to the reluctant Foley and his new partner in crime. Her role provides a strange, unsettling dimension, just enough to bring an unexpected gravity to Foley’s decisions about the job ahead.
This young actress is very good, and Tom Wilkinson comes in for a couple of scenes to lend a touch of privilege and menace, as a rich dude who places as much value on his wine cellar as he does on human life.
Although director David Weaver doesn’t break any new ground with his dark-lit, straightforward approach, he doesn’t mess it up, either. And he’s wise to let the material ride on the shoulders of his star.
Jackson (also an executive producer on the movie) allows the plot to flow around him, striding through with the focused presence of a guy who knows who he is — a sense that applies to both actor and character.
It’s good to see a movie star bring his tools to work on something small-scale like this, going quiet when he needs to, turning up that distinctive Jacksonian volume when necessary. He brings the picture a notch above the usual run of these things.
“The Samaritan” (3 stars)
Samuel Jackson brings his strong movie-star presence as an ex-con to this nicely low-key portrait of a con game with high consequences. It’s good to see Jackson out of the superhero mode, and he raises the material to another moody level.
Rated: R for violence, language, nudity.
Showing; Grand Illusion.