Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
We know director Dean Devlin as the box office-blockbusting, special effects-driven storyteller who blends robust action sequences and escalating dramatic tension into big, crowd-rousing entertainment. But with his latest, BAD SAMARITAN, he turns the focus to a story that values the deep complexities of moral conundrums over thrill-a-minute action sequences. The provocative cat-and-mouse game that unfolds makes for a solid, swifty little thriller.
Wannabe full-time photographer Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan) has a decent life, the love of his parents and a girlfriend Riley (Jacqueline Byers) who adores him. He’s also a petty thief. He works as a valet at a fancy Italian restaurant where he and his buddy Derek (Carlito Olivero) have devised a system to rob the wealthy clientele as they dine. Their biggest challenge is yet to face them: Cale Erendreich (David Tennant), a clever, slippery businessman with a pitch-black past. What was once a quick grab turns into something much more sticky when Sean discovers a missing woman, Katie (Kerry Condon), badly beaten and held captive at Cale’s modern manse. Despite the severe ramifications of going to the police, Sean calls the cops from safety, only to discover Cale has stashed the woman elsewhere – and he suspects Sean of ratting him out. As Cale’s vengeful hijinks ensue, Sean attempts to locate the terrified woman he left behind.
Devlin, along with screenwriter Brandon Boyce, do a sufficient job showing Sean engaged in the push-pull of the sticky situation he finds himself in. They aren’t afraid to go dark, or violent either – an admirable, ballsy move even in a film that deals in characters who aren’t squeaky clean. They present the narrative’s “what would you do” scenario in an intriguing, clever manner, engaging the audience in the same way early 90’s thrillers did.There’s a horse motif interwoven throughout, echoing thematic ties of needing to break, or tame, a wild urge growing inside. The dramatic crux is found within the antagonistic relationship over these two antiheroes’ struggle for dominance. The filmmakers do a great job building out the inherent tension of their precarious circumstances. Whether that be in the scene where Cale has spotted Sean’s beat-up car, or an unhinged Cale terrorizing Katie, the audience is bestowed with white knuckles and sweaty palms.
What also makes Devlin’s film linger are the performances from Tennant and Sheehan. The pair’s back-and-forth works efficiently because of their skills. Tennant is absolutely chilling as the formidable Robert Durst-like sociopath. Sheehan really digs into the moral gray area where his character resides, playing the intensity and dynamic facets with genuine sincerity and vulnerability.
Nevertheless, there are a few hiccups. Animal lovers should be forewarned as Cale’s flashbacks – one of which begins the picture on a shocking note – contain animal abuse. This is an expected trait given the monster he is, however, to first open our journey on this jarring tone lacks a little finesse. His villainous power would still have been just has potent if that flashback opening were excised. Ease us in a bit! They at least waited fifteen minutes to show Julia Roberts getting beat up in SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, or ten minutes to see Annabella Sciorra sexually assaulted in THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE. Riley and Katie are brutalized and punished for the purpose of aiding male arcs. Though there’s a very satisfying, subversive take on which character is bequeathed the inevitable third act hero moment (one that pivots slightly into the exploitation genre), considering how the filmmakers have treated this character, it can be a bit of an uneasy climb to rectify things.
All that said, there’s a undeniable kinetic energy to the picture, making it feel like a gratifying throwback thriller.
BAD SAMARITAN opens on May 4.