Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson deserves better than “Snitch.”
The film touts itself as being inspired by true events. Somehow I suspect this plot is, ah, somewhat less than realistic.
Johnson plays John Matthews, a dedicated family man and owner of a successful trucking company who becomes desperate to help his son, Jason (Rafi Gavron). Jason made the poor choice of agreeing to receive and hold a package of ecstasy for a friend who then planned to sell it. The DEA got to his friend first and compelled him to set up Jason. And because of the “mandatory minimum” sentencing laws in place, Jason faces no less than 10 years behind bars, no exceptions.
The only thing that can lessen his sentence is if he sets up one of his friends to get busted, but with his refusal to do so, he’s looking at a hard 10 years ahead. John, however, is willing to do whatever it takes to save his son from a hellish decade inside, and strikes up a deal with a U.S. attorney (Susan Sarandon) and a DEA agent (Barry Pepper) to go undercover in bringing down drug kingpin, “El Topo” Pintera (Benjamin Bratt).
Despite what the trailers attempt to sell the film as, “Snitch” isn’t really an action vehicle for Johnson. All of the action beats are backloaded in the final 30 minutes or so of the film. Instead, “Snitch” is focused almost entirely on John’s quest to save his son (who is having an increasingly horrific experience as the days tick onward).
The film is almost shockingly straightforward and Ric Roman Waugh crafts his piece in a manner that feels like it goes against most modern filmmaking conventions. The direction can feel a bit anonymous at times, but I have to admire at least somewhat the workman-like qualities of a director who doesn’t try to overcook drama or action.
I also have to give Johnson props for taking on a role as grounded as this. There’s a bit of dissonance when it comes to seeing a guy built like an action figure trying to play an average Joe and even gets physically beaten with relative ease.
But Johnson gives it his best shot, though the results are often serviceable at best. He’s not bad, but it’s a role that doesn’t really play to his strengths either. I admire the guy for branching out and trying something different, and I think he’s got the potential to perhaps dig deeper, but this is neither the script nor the director to accomplish such a task.
Mostly I found myself being far more engaged by Barry Pepper’s undercover DEA agent and that gloriously haggard beard he was sporting. Basically if the movie had been more about Pepper trying to take down local drug runner Malik (Michael K. Williams essentially not trying hard to just reprise his character from “The Wire”) I might have been vastly more entertained.
I have to give Waugh and his script co-writer Justin Haythe praise, though, for attempting an “issues film” that never really beats you over the head with what it’s trying to say. “Snitch” is very much a vehicle for them to bring to the forefront perceived injustices regarding the mandatory minimum laws and it would have been very easy to just browbeat the audience with what they wanted to say, but thankfully that’s by and large avoided.
“Snitch” isn’t a bad movie. I wasn’t bored with it. It’s just lacking in meat. There’s not much to really think about or a performance to really savor once the credits roll.