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Copernicus sees Samuel L. Jackson in the noir thriller THE SAMARITAN at the Santa Barbara Film Festival!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here to introduce the one and only Copernicus who is on the ground in Santa Barbara right now taking in that film festival. Copernicus, probably the smartest human being to ever put thoughts into words on this site, has seen the new Sam Jackson movie, which he describes as a noir. Sam Jackson in a noir is all I need to know I will be watching this movie, however if you want to know more, good ol' Copernicus can fill you in! Enjoy!

 

Last night at SBIFF we saw the world premiere of THE SAMARITAN, a modern noir starring Samuel L. Jackson. Going in, I had low expectations. I always enjoy Jackson’s work, but he makes a lot of films. I love his work ethic, which no doubt comes from his days struggling to make it. But as a result, he’s in a lot of films, and not all turn out great. What really had me suspicious was that the film was premiering at SBIFF on a Sunday night, and in the 680 seat Lobero theater, instead of the 2000+ Arlington, where most of the red carpet events are held. Samuel L. Jackson was showing up to support the film in person, so I knew at least he was behind it. But he’s biased -- I still wondered if the festival staff was dumping the film in a smaller venue on an off-night because it wasn’t that great.

My suspicions were unfounded: THE SAMARITAN is an entertaining, clever noir, and has one of the most shocking plot twists in years. Prepare to have your pants surprised off. The big twist caused a huge gasp from the entire audience at our screening. It is quite something to hear 680 people have an involuntary physical reaction to a movie scene. I won’t spoil it here, but that twist comes about midway through the film, and it is actually the first of quite a few shifts that will keep you guessing until the end. You can figure out a few of the film’s minor turns before they happen, it is a noir after all, but quite a few times I thought I was ahead of the next twist, only to be fooled myself.

As a result, I can’t give away much of the plot, so I’ll only set up the beginning of the film. Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) an old-time grifter and a con man is released from prison after 25 years. He tries to turn over a new leaf, taking a job in construction, but before long some demons from his past return to haunt him. Ethan (Luke Kirby), the son of his former partner, is desperately trying to recruit him for one huge score. But he works for the new crime boss in town, Xavier, (Tom Wilkinson), and that’s a scene Foley wants nothing to do with. And this is a noir, so of course there has to be a temptress of questionable moral character. That’s Iris (Ruth Negga), a drug-addicted prostitute running with the wrong crowd. Actually she’s only the first of two such characters.

If you like movies with elaborate cons, like THE GRIFTERS, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, or DOUBLE INDEMNITY, then THE SAMARITAN is right in your wheelhouse. It has a few flaws that keep it from quite reaching such rarified heights, but there’s plenty to like.

The biggest knock against the film will be film geeks complaining that it is derivative. One of the plot points is very similar to something from another film that film geeks may have seen, but most mainstream audiences won’t be familiar with. And another plot point is very similar to an alternate ending to a more famous movie. I won’t mention either film for fear of ruining the surprise, but I predict future flame wars between Talkbackers similar to the never-ending “Tarantino ripped off CITY ON FIRE” or “Lucas ripped off THE HIDDEN FORTRESS” debates. My own opinion is that no film exists in a vacuum; all borrow either explicitly or subconsciously from what came before. I had a chat with director David Weaver just after the film, and he’s a real film geek and fan of the site. I like how he has drawn from many genres and films to create something that feels like an homage, but is at the same time original. In fact, he sometimes uses your familiarity with the subject matter to subvert expectations and keep you guessing.

Jackson and Wilkinson deliver expectedly solid performances. Jackson carries the film, so his performance is key to maintaining the audience’s interest. Wilkinson’s role is surprisingly small though. I suspect it was initially larger and got edited down. This is an indie film, so the rest of the supporting cast aren’t well-known actors. Kirby and Negga hold their own, but as is generally true in a noir the characters are mostly broad types -- foils for the hero. They have their motivations, but it is plot, not necessarily character development, that drives this type of movie. The actors pull off their roles, but nobody matches Samuel L. Jackson’s star power.

I really like the fact that THE SAMARITAN is a modern noir. By that I mean that the film follows noir conventions, but the characters aren’t pretending to be in the 40s, the film is in color, and it can get steamier than old film codes would ever have allowed (there is nudity). In that sense it is closer to something like BODY HEAT than some early works from the classic era. However, there is one scene in particular that bugged me. Deborah Kara Unger plays a relatively small role in the film. The first time we see her she speaks and acts normally. But as soon as she’s alone with our hero she drops into a cringe-inducing approximation of the silliest of 50s noir speech. I don’t think that scene was shot particularly well either. I suspect they ran out of either time or money when shooting that scene. But IFC has picked up the film for a May release. I really hope they’ll reshoot that scene.

One more nitpick is the penultimate scene of the film. I won’t spoil it, but it is the kind of thing you can understand a writer writing for thematic purposes, but it just seems so implausible that you don’t really buy it. Let’s just say it is medically dubious. In fact, a very similar ending was rejected from another film for not being realistic enough. In this case, the same thematic point could have been made in the climactic scene just before. It almost took me out of the film, and if had happened earlier I’d have checked right out. As it was, I’ll tolerate it because by the time it happened I was already invested.

But I don’t want to end this on a down note. THE SAMARITAN is a worthy take on the noir genre that is entertaining, surprising, and it plays well to a crowd. And on top of that we get another great performance from Samuel L. Jackson. I think it will be a quite a crowd pleaser, and much talked about this summer. I’m looking forward to whatever director David Weaver does next.
Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 30, 2012, 10:10 p.m. CST

    Meh

    by ATARI

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 10:10 p.m. CST

    I saw and reviewd this last year. It. Is. Terrible.

    by Jubba

    I sent my review to AICN folks last year sometime when I saw a screening of a mostly-done version of the film. It's terrible. Horrible. The twist IS huge and that's the only thing that makes this movie stand out. Terrible all around. If AICN posts my review, you can find out why. Unless you want me to post it in the talkbacks.

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 10:13 p.m. CST

    they blew the budget getting sam jackson

    by Jubba

    and then didn't know what to do with him. they had a cool flashback scene with a digitally-youngified sam jackson and that looks like where the rest of the budget went. the movie just makes no sense. forget noir, it's opaque to the point of not letting any light through.

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 10:14 p.m. CST

    Ruth Negga?

    by MaxCalifornia.

    Negga, you serious?

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 10:15 p.m. CST

    Wilkinson seemed to be an afterhtought

    by Jubba

    his character barely fits into the film and it seemed like they threw him in after the movie was shot and they realized they needed more star power to sell the movie

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 10:16 p.m. CST

    Can't wait... I love noire films...

    by KHjLL

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 10:18 p.m. CST

    the end scene is ridiculous

    by Jubba

    the end alone should be enough to turn anyone off from this movie - unfortunately you don't see it soon enough to let you leave the theatre and get your money back. i won't spoil it for those of you who might end up seeing the movie...but just don't. watch snakes on a plane or deep blue sea instead...both have way better performances by SLJ. bah. remembering this movie just makes me grumpy. the audience i was with was laughing at how serious the movie was taking itself - everyone i spoke to afterwards thought it was absolutely terrible. even people that i know to be easy to please at the movies thought it was awful.

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 10:20 p.m. CST

    official website

    by Jubba

    http://www.thesamaritanfilm.com/

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 10:24 p.m. CST

    watch the trailer at the official site and see how bad it is

    by Jubba

    they lay it all out for you and you can see the low quality of everything in the movie...bah

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 10:25 p.m. CST

    Here's my guess on one of the big twists....

    by Mace13

    Knowing nothing about this movie other than what was wrote above, i'm going to guess that the the one twist that most film geeks might be familar with but the mainstram audience isn't is that one of the female characters in the movie that Jackson hooks up with turns out to be his immediate family member via "oldboy". Am I close "Jubba"? Anyone?

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 10:36 p.m. CST

    mace13

    by Jubba

    i hate spoiling anything for anyone even IF the movie is unwatchable (in my opinion). if you have some other way i can answer you in private, let me know. by the way, thanks for spoiling old boy.

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 11:06 p.m. CST

    Jubba

    by Mace13

    Eh, I thought about putting a spoiler warning at the begining of my post because of the "Oldboy" comment. But then decided f**k it. That movie literally came out almost ten years ago. Bitching about that is like bitching about someone mentioning Bruce Willis is a ghost in "The Sixth sense". I think it's safe to say the secret is now out and it should be free to talk about. Especially among film geeks which populate this site. Feel free to disagree if you think i'm wrong. And besides I think that it was pretty obvious what the reviewer was refering to in the article.

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 11:15 p.m. CST

    However...

    by Mace13

    I don't have a clue as to what alternate ending to a famous movie the other big twist is suppose to be similiar to. They got me on that one. :P

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 11:21 p.m. CST

    About the ending...

    by Jubba

    Alternate endings aren't necessarily even ever filmed....especially when they make absolutely no sense despite hoping to carry an emotional weight tied to a character making some kind of sacrifice or gesture....but honestly give me an email address and I'll fill you in if u want..maybe an address you make now and never use again after since it'll be posted for all to see

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 12:12 a.m. CST

    I lovey me some Ruth Negga

    by yourSTEPDADDY

    the worst thing that happened to me in 2012 is that I watched Misfits... now I wanna live in London, having crazy sex with powers, and I am obsessed with Ruth Negga... if anything, watch season 2 just for her... and her character had the coolest "killing Hitler thru time travel" comment ever PS: now I gotta google pics of her...

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 12:25 a.m. CST

    jubba... stop acting like a bitch

    by yourSTEPDADDY

    and just say what happened... obviously you want to but want to protect the twist. do this. TYPE SPOILER IN THE SUBJECT THEN PUT SOME CHARACTERS LIKE THIS ****IN FRONT OF SPOILER FOLLOWED BY MORE **** IN THE COMMENT THEN TYPE THE FUCKING SPOILER THEN IF YOU WANT, TYPE END SPOILER its that fucking easy. no need to get email addresses

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 12:31 a.m. CST

    Ok Jubba

    by Mace13

    You can send the email here.. mononokefan23@live.com

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 12:43 a.m. CST

    mace13 email sent

    by Jubba

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 12:58 a.m. CST

    *****SPOILERS*****

    by Jubba

    since i'm apparently being a bitch, i'm putting spoilers below. honestly...don't read it if you have ANY desire to see this movie since there's very little else going for it other than the "twists". *******SPOILERS FOLLOW******* ethan wants revenge for his father's death. he introduces foley to iris. she is foley's daughter. they have a lot of sex before they find out. she gets shot in the stomach. foley saves her by having a veterinarian transfuse all of his blood into her. he dies because he has no blood. she survives because sam jackson's blood can cure bullet-riddled stomachs. movie references in review are old boy and 28 days later. ********END SPOILERS********** pure ridiculousness. yes, the twist got a gasp from the audience, but it set up a lot of mistrust in the plot moving forward from there. i was always thinking "what ELSE can happen at this point?" and the ending was just icing on the cake. a total waste of time. SLJ phoned in his performance on this one and only uses his trademark "angry voice" once or twice at most.

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 1:15 a.m. CST

    mace13

    by TheMcflyFarm

    Thanks for spoiling The Sixth Sense.

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 2:27 a.m. CST

    thanks Jubba

    by yourSTEPDADDY

    sorry I had to call you a bitch, but thanks for spoiling it... now I am gonna feel sick thinking about my precious Ruth Negga boning her fictional father who is Sammie L Jackson... PS: does she look good in this? the drug-addicted part makes me think not so much? or is she one of those "sexy Hollywood drug addict" types?

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 2:51 a.m. CST

    yourstepdaddy

    by Phetikus

    Don't you think now that anyone who reads your post will know what the main spoiler is anyway?

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 3:09 a.m. CST

    Been a while since JACKSON made a real quality movie

    by melonman

    His name now inspires by the numbers sell out, or DTV dreck with a cliched performance. It'd be great if this really is a return to form. I love me a good grift movie.

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 4:07 a.m. CST

    What a Twist..

    by higgledyhiggles

    Since I now know there is not just a twist but a shocking one I have no interest in seeing the film. After all I`d just be waiting for it. Can people seriously not review or preview movies without this kind of information. `It`s a thriller`, `It`s a mystery` is enough. Screw it, why not just print a summary of all salient script points plus the ending with an explanation of what happened. Before everyone tells me to eat shit because this is a movie spoiler site or some lame excuse to allow piss poor writing, please note the absence of the word SPOILER in the title or kind of anywhere at all. Different people regard different things as spoilers I get that but when a lot of modern day `high concept` movies revolve around these twists it becomes a much greater issue. If i`d known what was to happen in Memento before I saw it it wouldn`t be in my top 10 movies. IF we all knew Vader was who we was before it happened all the SW fans would have cried into Jar Jar Binks shoulder all the way home. Rant over. Cue the snark..

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 4:16 a.m. CST

    Ass

    by Alex Moore

    Jubba you're such an ass, why spoil anything, it's because of twats like you that the game gets given away before people see the fucking film, now fuck off and break your neck trying to get your shit reviews posted eslewhere, cunt

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 6:31 a.m. CST

    negga please

    by dirk123

    more negga please

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 6:49 a.m. CST

    I saw it sometime last year too

    by MinderThr33

    Jubba is right with his brief review. The theater actually burst out laughing during the twist.

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 8:11 a.m. CST

    Does Sam have Nick Cage-esque debts?

    by IAmTommyWiseau

    He's in EVERYTHING.

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 8:18 a.m. CST

    You mean to tell me that...

    by siraether

    This isn't a continuation of Samuel L. Jackson's character from Die Hard 3? I'm out.

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 9:16 a.m. CST

    ARENA

    by korbendal

    Great amount of tits and ass... but even that couldn't hide Sam Jackson's hammy, horrible acting in it...

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 12:40 p.m. CST

    test screenings

    by copernicus

    The director mentioned a pair of test screenings that didn't go well. As I understand it they made changes and this is a different version. So I can't comment on previous edits.

  • Jan. 31, 2012, 4:40 p.m. CST

    test screenings

    by Jubba

    ok fair enough. maybe they actually read my comments and made some changes based on that...which is kind of cool, actually. but since it sounds like they kept the gist of what made the test screenings fail, then i'm still quite skeptical and definitely won't be buying a ticket to see it again.