Grifting Is Harder Than Comedy
Every few years somebody makes a movie about grifting. Sometimes the long con is elegant like the ‘Oceans 11’ movies, and sometimes they’re even quaintly charming like ‘The Sting’ but mostly they’re tragic affairs like ‘The Grifters’ or ‘Matchstick Men’. If they’re done well, these things vault to the top of the consciousness but in more instances they end up being delineations of a certain kind of criminal consciousness.
The later entries in this genre have been less impressive. ‘Tower Heist’ and ‘The Brothers Bloom’ aim high and crash land hard. If you put your mind to it, it’s actually a very difficult genre to pull off well.
With that out of the way, today’s movie is ‘The Samaritan’ starring Samuel L. Jackson, a rather downbeat, grim and gritty movie about an ex-con who isn’t allowed to go straight.
What’s Good About it
Samuel L. Jackson isn’t screaming “motherfucker” in this film. It’s a character study kind of thing instead where he unknowingly fucks his daughter and finds out she’s his daughter afterwards. It’s pretty gross out but you sort of hang with it because the set up is so extreme.
Okay, I’m not sure that bit is really all that good, but it’ll be the one memorable thing in this film.
What’s Bad About It
It’s slow, it’s long-winded and spends all too much time forcing Samuel L. Jackson’s character Foley into committing to the grift. And then when you find out what the grift is, you think to yourself “how is that supposed to be a clever grift? That’s only going to get you killed!”
The film looks gritty, the story is grim, the mood is grimy, the characters seem to come from the gutters and it’s about a bad grift. There’s very little upside to this film. The script is generally flabby and seems to be interested with the wrong sorts of things, like bad car-through-red-lights scenes. It’s amazing it got made, actually.
At one point Foley delivers a long lecture about what a little knife can do as he threatens Ethan. It seems really redundant. Most people in the audience would be familiar with the concept of the severed carotid artery, so it seems incredibly stupid that Foley makes a long speech about what the knife could do. Sure it could – but it can also cut fruit. Give us a break.
The sound mix is abysmal. It’s not only bad, it is out of whack. The dialogue is hardly audible in key scenes so you have to strain and roll back several times to figure out what on earth is going on. The sound mixer ought to never work again. It was that bad.
Deborah Unger’s plastic surgery is pretty awful.
What’s Interesting About it
As grift movies go, it’s very under-done and a touch weird.
The film is interestingly enough, not about revenge. It kicks off with a murder which gets explained as Foley having to kill his best friend and partner when a grift went wrong. The son of his partner comes back to twist his arm into going back into the long con. If it were about revenge, you’d think the son would set up the daughter-fucking thing and then shoot him, but instead he enlists him into the con. It’s so convoluted, it needs so much explaining and that essentially eats up half the film.
It’s interesting that nobody in development picked this up because it’s a terrible choice. Grift movies should be about putting the long con together in the second act and not, having your arm twisted into doing it reluctantly. It’s just one of those films you put down to experience.
“Yup, I saw it.”
Honour Among Thieves, And Other Miscellany
A lot of the time, the honour among thieves thing creeps in to the grift movie. In this film, it never has the chance.
Instead, the throwing up thing makes it in. Samuel L. Jackson leaps out from the taxi and hurls up chunks on the street. As I’ve pointed out before, this is the hot new trend in movies: Vomit. Maybe this film deserves it.