Samuel L. Jacksonbrings a welcome world-weariness to his character in “The Samaritan,” a man named Foley just released from prison after having served 25 years for killing his best friend in a con job gone wrong. But soon, Foley’s found himself sucked back into a life on the grift, and Jackson launches into one of his many patented bellows and things take a turn for the predictable. (There’s even an obvious twist lifted straight from a recent Asian crime film; to identify the movie would give it away.)
Once the dead man’s son convinces Foley to take on one more con, things quickly go wrong. Tom Wilkinson appears as the sort of dignified heavy he’s played elsewhere; the film’s biggest surprise is actress Ruth Negga, who brings real sharpness to her role as a young woman forced into Foley’s path.
In the best confidence films — “The Sting"and “The Grifters” for example — there’s always a sense of a larger plot at work. By contrast, “The Samaritan” at times seems as if writers Elan Mastai and David Weaver (Weaver also directs) were just making things up as they went along. The haphazard feeling of the narrative deflates any real tension.
“The Samaritan” doesn’t wind up feeling like a con, exactly, but it has just enough promise to leave viewers feeling ripped off when it comes up short.
“The Samaritan.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.