Bad Samaritan first published by RealCrime Magazine
Bad Samaritan opens with a flashback: a young boy whips a horse as an unseen woman pleads with him to stop, and then he raises a pistol and shoots. This is a primal scene – a significant event from that past that represents the moment where a person’s formative pathology takes root. Cut to the present, decades later, and we are in Portland, Oregon, where feckless young Irish chancer Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan) is caught in a conflict. On the one hand he has good heart, a talent for photography and a nice college girlfriend Riley (Jacqueline Byers) who, being somewhat out of his league, is his best hope to improve himself. On the other hand, he is work-shy and his car valet job with friend Derek (Carlito Olivero) is really just an excuse for robbing the homes of their moneyed clients. Despite wanting to settle down with Riley, Sean cannot help continuing his larcenous activities – until, in a neat gender inversion of the set-up from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), this thief is about to stumble into the lair of an unhinged kidnapper-cum-killer – and to discover that maybe for once he can straightforwardly be the good guy.
As Sean does everything he can to free the woman (Kerry Condon) whom Cale Erendreich (David Tennant) is keeping chained like an animal, Cale himself spots an opportunity for more of his favourite sport: breaking others like horses so that he can ‘correct’ their behaviour. If Dean Devlin’s film tracks the tense cat-and-mouse that ensues between these two, then it is also a character study in diptych comparing their contrasting personalities and their very different modes of criminality. Sean’s evident warmth and human compassion is set against Cale’s cold-hearted affectlessness and objectification of others. There is also a social dimension to their clash, with Cale, heir to a vast family fortune, breaking into the life of working-class Sean much as Sean broke into his – only with an added, overt sense of entitlement and superiority.
Still best known for his endearing turn as Doctor Who, here Tennant instead channels the calculating, manipulative psychosis of his arch-villain Killgrave from the first series of television’s Jessica Jones (2015). As Tennant embodies class privilege and the feeling of impunity that goes with it, Devlin pits him against a desperate miscreant and an abductee who (in another gender inversion) is, despite her straitened circumstances, more than a match for both of them. The result is a slick and serviceable mix of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Marcus Dunstan’s The Collector (2009) and Ryuhei Kitamura’s No One Lives (2012), pacing out its thrills while increasingly giving free rein to credibility.
© Anton Bitel