Movie Review: Bad Samaritan.
Bad Samaritan is a solid thriller driven by strong performances from its leads and a dynamic game of cat and mouse at its core.
As I’ve said, I’m a sucker for thrillers about catching serial killers or psychopaths. While Silence of the Lambs set the bar, many fine films have followed suit with memorable villains. I was intrigued by the trailer for Bad Samaritan, which features David Tennant as the baddie. He’s probably most famous for his role in returning Dr. Who to mass popularity, but he had a fantastic turn as the psychotic villain in the first season of Jessica Jones on Netflix. One of my favorite genres plus a solid antagonist made Bad Samaritan an easy pick to review, despite the disastrous first week it had at the box office.
My experience with Bad Samaritan is that it is a solid thriller with a good cast, and while it doesn’t rise to the level of the classics in the genre, it does entertain. The script sometimes works to overburden the proceedings, but the performances save the film from itself in key places and Bad Samaritan delivers a memorable psychopath and a clever game of cat and mouse to drive the action.
Bad Samaritan (2018).
Sean (Robert Sheehan) is a young expatriate from Ireland trying to make a living in Portland, Oregon. Unwilling to take traditional jobs, he runs a valet service with his buddy Derek, which is really a front for robbing their rich clients. Sean winds up over his head one night when he breaks into a rich man’s house, only to discover that he is a vicious serial killer who abducts women and tortures them. Sean tries to save the killer’s latest victim (Kerry Condon), but his criminal background makes the police unsympathetic. He resolves to break the woman out by any means…but the killer, Cale (David Tennant), has learned of Sean’s involvement and has decided to turn his talents for psychological manipulation on the young man.
Bad Samaritan relies on psychology to drive the tension. Both Sean and Cale are troubled individuals who have developed cunning and resourcefulness to cope. When they are squared off against each other, the story has a rock solid foundation. While Cale is in the driver’s seat, Sean turns the tables often enough to create a dynamic adversarial relationship. Similarly, Tennant and Condon have an interesting relationship where you can see her constantly working to keep him calm long enough to escape.
While the psychological tension is often used very effectively, the script can often try to force too much of a good thing onto its characters. David Tennant’s antagonist has many adroit physical ticks that point to a cunning and disturbed mind, and he effectively swings from cold and rational to disturbed and furious. The problem is when Tennant’s character seems beset by a legion of complexes, such that you feel the script attempting to say “no, really, this is one messed up guy!” His back story is also forced on us late in the game, which actually robs him of his mystique. Likewise, Robert Sheehan’s Sean has a bevy of his own issues, many of which are thrown at us in some clunky dialogue.
The strong performances of the cast across the board helps to paper over the heavy-handed aspects of the script. Sheehan is at first deliberately untrustworthy, but grows into a character you can become invested in. Rather than just set him up as the good guy, we see him go from jerk to hero in a believable arc. Tennant really seems to sink his teeth into his portrayal of Cale, moving from blood chilling sociopathy to snarling rage in entertaining swings. I was really impressed with Kerry Condon in a role that is often thankless in this genre. She does a fantastic job conveying the psychological state of a person going through such horrendous stuff, and yet isn’t just another timid victim.
Play the Game.
Director Dean Devlin has been associated with many awful movies: Geostorm, Independence Day 2, Godzilla 1998 and so forth. I was glad to see that his try at a psychological thriller was much more evenhanded and restrained than his big action bonanzas. I wouldn’t call Bad Samaritan revelutionary; it is mostly a solid take on a well established genre that provides some of its own flourishes to good effect. The characters are interesting and well played, and there is a nice element of class warfare that is lightly treated but not belabored. The film moves along at a brisk pace, has several nice action sequences to punctuate the escalating tension of the plot. Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Bad Samaritan, despite a few flaws, and recommend it to fans of the genre.