Saturday, May 19, 2012

THE SAMARITAN - a gritty thriller set in the Big Smoke

Full disclosure:  David Weaver who co-wrote and directed this picture is a guy I know and like.  This is his third feature and I 've known him since he came back here from grad school and was trying to make his first.  He is a nice guy, a smart guy, and a talented guy.

Last night, a screenwriter friend of mine and I attended one of his opening weekend screenings.  It was Friday night at twilight at Dundas and Yonge.  There were break-dance guys with a floor and a ghetto blaster dancing on the corner.  There was a mime dressed as Batman letting tourists take pictures with him for donations. There was a guy doing masterful chalk drawings.  The TV screens and the neon lights flashed overhead.  It was warm, the first night of the first long weekend of summer. The city felt packed and rocking.  I said to my friend who is now a young mom  "You know, it feels good to be out here on Friday night.  We should do this more often." 

Inside, the mall and the multiplex were big and weirdly quiet. I guess a lot of people did go to the cottage after all.  Once the film started, we were back where Toronto feels like a pulsing place.  THE SAMARITAN  is a slick, good-looking film with a plot turn a minute.  Samuel L. Jackson, who anchors the film and gives it heart, plays a man released from prison after 25 years who wants to just get on with having a normal life.  He was a con artist who murdered his partner when a scam they were pulling went South.  The sins of the father are revisited on the son who turns up at Jackson's apartment trying to lure, then coerce him back into the con game.  Seems his father's murder failed to deter the son from going into the family business.

In theatre, we talk about"willing suspension of disbelief" .  You need a certain amount of that to get pulled through the labyrinthine plot-turns to the bloody conclusion of this picture.  The film has a noirish look and the troubled young woman at the centre of this owes a debt to certain noir dames from the past but this is more action-packed thriller than anything else. There are car chases, dead bodies, violent fights, crap bars, diners and gun-play a plenty.

This much plot in a film tends to be a bit at the expense of character development. The cast is good and engaging but like the stylish and slick Marivaux I saw last weekend, the film appealed more to my head than it did to my heart.  I loved the look of the picture.  It held my interest and unlike many  films I see, it had a clear start, middle and ending. I see way  too much stuff where I  get to the end and think," How the hell did we end up here?"  It's  a slick, enjoyable ( if you like gritty violence and messed up relationships) well-constructed genre picture.

Given how hard it is to get a feature film made in this country, I'm prepared to give a medal to damn near anybody who manages to get it done.  Weaver's made three now, which puts him in a realm with few people in English Canada. I was glad to have seen it and I look forward to what Weaver will make next.

After the past two weekends, I've had way more than enough crime and violence on stage and screen.  It's time for some romance and some comedy.  I will try and  take you to a happy place with me next week.

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