I went into Dean Devlin’s Bad Samaritan with low expectations. Despite starring the incredibly popular David Tennant (“Jessica Jones”, “Doctor Who”) there has been virtually no pre-release buzz around this film and I’ve gotten a vibe from the marketing that reminds me a little too much of 2016’s Criminal, one of my least-favorite films of the last several years. Devlin, himself, is a big name in the film industry, but mostly as a producer. Bad Samaritan is only his sophomore effort as a director, after Geostorm. But, despite what all the Facebook comment sections believe, it’s not fair to judge a film without seeing it, so here I am, after giving it a chance and hoping for the best.
And, I’m so glad I did. I’m not going to get into the narrative of the film, because the less you know, the better. Here’s everything I knew before the film began rolling: David Tennant plays a bad guy. That’s it. That’s literally all I knew. I had seen no trailers, no television spots, read no reviews . . . all I had to go on were a few stills and the official poster. I went into this film as blind as I can recall being in quite some time and it was the right call. Knowing virtually nothing is absolutely the best way to go into this film. Discovering the twists and turns is a large part of the fun.
But that’s not all of the fun – not by a long shot. Bad Samaritan assumes a compelling dual identity of its own, splitting its time between being an over-the-top Hollywood thriller and a more down-to-Earth suspense tale that tackles the genre in as realistic a way as I can recall seeing. The over-the-top components are largely supplied by the characters and their decision-making. In the real world, most people would never follow the patterns of thinking or behavior that Tennant’s Cale and/or Robert Sheehan’s (Geostorm) Sean follow within the film. But that’s why it’s a movie. On that front, it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise.
But once those characters begin to follow said trains of thought, the reality of the world around them actively works to keep them from their respective goals. If you’ve ever watched a thriller and thought to yourself that “breaking that [enter your favorite object] wouldn’t really be that easy” or “they aren’t strong enough to do that”, then this is the movie for you! Additionally, even if the characters’ behavior is exaggerated, their dialogue is spot-on – sometimes to the point of being humorous in a that’s-exactly-what-they-should-have-said-but-I-never-expected-them-to-actually-say-it kind of way. The film actually features one of my favorite lines of the year. I feel like even telling you who it comes from would be saying too much, but it’s near the end of the film. If you see it (please see it) and want to reach out to me with a guess, feel free to. I expect you’ll know it when you hear it.
The main reasons to see this movie are simple and twofold: it’s riveting and it’s exciting. From the moment that the first twist (of many) is revealed, my heartrate became elevated and I’m not sure it ever got back to the resting rate. With each twist and each reveal, the stakes are raised and the consequences become more dire. And even if you think you know what might happen, there are so many possibilities that there’s no way to be sure. Here I was, expecting this film to be a chore, and I hardly wanted to take the time to even blink because I couldn’t bear the thought of missing something.
Tennant and Sheehan also complement the tremendous script by turning in authentic and memorable performances. Tennant uses an American accent and almost doesn’t even feel like he’s David Tennant, which is exactly what any actor would hope to accomplish. He’s a blast to watch and is clearly enjoying himself. Sheehan plays his own role to perfection: a boy attempting to navigate a harrowing experience and turning into a man, along the way. He takes an initially unlikable character and compels the viewer to root for him. His character arc is the epitome of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, except that Sean can only hope that the experience actually doesn’t kill him, which I won’t ruin for you, of course.
There are slight instances of Devlin sacrificing some narrative logic in order to compound the tension and suspense. However, any concessions that are made only do minor damage to that unique moment, and not to the overarching anecdote, and even that is arguable. What’s more important: minor logical fallacies that could be explained away, anyway, or a suspense film actually containing palpable suspense? And, in any case, the small logical missteps are in no way as critical as those in A Quiet Place so anyone who can overlook that movie’s flaws and love it, anyway, can certainly do the same, here. Ultimately, it’s worth it.
Despite the aforementioned popularity of Tennant, many of his so-called “big fans” apparently aren’t that big, because the majority of them haven’t been supporting this film (kudos to those of you who have). So, now it’s up to you, as an apparent movie lover. Here’s what you need to do: 1) Don’t read anything else about the film. Don’t! 2) Go see the film. 3) Do it soon because it likely won’t be around for long. That’s pretty easy, right? Come on, a lot of you have MoviePass, anyway, so what do you have to lose? Nobody loves Infinity War (review) more than I do, but there are other films out there, too, and they need the support a heck of a lot more than that film does. With Bad Samaritan, we have a sharp, surprising, well-acted thriller that will have you flinching, jumping, and squirming in your seat, just like a thriller is supposed to do. Don’t let it pass you by; you’ll eventually kick yourself for it.
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