SNITCH Review

Who knew there was any downside to being The Rock? Excuse me, I mean Dwayne Johnson. If the guy didn't seem genuinely nice or completely charming all the time you'd be crazy to assume there was anything wrong with being this bulking, perfectly chiseled statue of a man. Turns out, even the smartest of actors, the nicest of guys can sometimes become confined to what they do best for those exact reasons. Thus is the issue we run into with Snitch and what takes us out of the film rather than complimenting it. While what we usually expect from Johnson is a good old fashioned taking the trash out type story with a different style to elicit diversity among films, what he is trying to do here is restrain those natural instincts, putting himself in an everyman role and it is simply hard to believe this large, bulking guy as someone who would be intimidated so easily. It is absolutely a case of the actors reputation dictating an their screen persona even if that actor is trying to break out (at least a little bit) from the standard roles he or she is constantly offered. It is admirable that Johnson would want to branch out and try to take on material more challenging for him, helping him develop his dramatic acting skills, but Snitch still wants to be an action movie and you can feel it. Sometimes it even seems Johnson is waiting on the action to start. With three more upcoming films in the next three months we will be seeing plenty of The Rock on the big screen and while the other forthcoming projects cater better to the physique of this monster of charisma, Snitch is not a bad way to start things off. It has its fair share of issues but more than anything it suffers from a bad case of miscasting. This isn't our leads fault though as he does the best he can and turns in a rather surprisingly satisfying February film.

Susan Sarandon and Dwayne Johnson in Snitch.
Despite even the trailers trying to sell this thing the wrong way, being more than your standard, no-brainer action flick naturally helps the film as audiences seem to be suffering from action fatigue lately. Through the first two months of the year we've seen flops from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone with Jason Statham being only slightly more successful and even Bruce Willis doing less than expected in the latest Die Hard. Snitch rises above these in your face B-movies by being a well put together film with an interesting story, moral dilemma, and tone for building real tension. The story revolves around John Matthews (Johnson), a successful businessman and father who will do whatever he needs to do in order to reduce the 10-year minimum sentence facing his son. His 18-year old son Jason (Rafi Gavron) was set up by a friend in a drug deal and is facing that jail time unless he can provide names to help the cops put other dealers away. Jason won't use another person as his friend has done to him and he knows no one else in the trade so he seems to be stuck. It is a difficult position, a case that makes you question the system and want to support a case by case mentality rather than the strict rules enforced on believed narcotics distributors because of the overall effect it is having on the country. To free his son, John goes to US Attorny Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) to find out if there is any way he might be able to help. Keeghan, a believer in the mandatory sentence, gives him the only option of getting a certain amount of drugs or a certain level of drug dealer before she can do anything to help him. This leads to Matthews going undercover for the DEA and pulling out all the stops to bring in the bad guys.

What differentiates Snitch from the recent crop of actioners though is the fact it really isn't an action film at all. Not until the final half hour or so do we see any kind of car chase and that is the main selling point in the trailer and the poster. There is a brief amount of gun firing earlier in the film but it is in fact brief and there isn't much to it other than introducing and setting up a certain character. Thus, we are brought to what made the film a much better film than I ever expected it to be. It has a good, compelling story with people you get to know and come to care about. It allows you to become invested in John's quest and it lets you know there will be consequences for his actions. Consequences that these other action films of late seem to have forgotten exist. We are consistently on edge not just over if Matthews can pass as a man so desperate he'd turn to transporting drugs to keep his business afloat but if his new employers will smell a rat and do away with him. Now, of course they wouldn't have made a movie out of it (or at least not a mainstream one starring The Rock) if things were that bleak, but the film does a really nice job of developing its story and putting the audience in the thick of the tension. Though the draw back of this premise and casting The rock in such a role is that we don't worry about him as much as we probably could because we clearly see how the guy looks. I mean, he's massive and his arms are bigger than most of the dealers heads he comes into contact with. Even though he's in the middle of this world he knows nothing about we still feel like a guy with that stature could take care of himself. The other side of this argument though is that The Rock delivers a performance we can believe and for the most part, he really does. We believe in his humble roots, we feel the pain of watching his son wrongly sitting in a cell, and we know no matter what he looks like the actions are a testament to his character and nothing more.

Jon Bernthal plays a critical role in helping The Rock get into the drug game.
I went into Snitch with modest to low expectations, but came out really surprised by what I'd just experienced. Though it doesn't classify as an action film, it is a clear drama, it manages to deliver what the audience expects to some extent while making a statement about the mandatory sentencing laws and how they aren't really being thought through. How well it does this is up for debate as I have no real knowledge of the subject matter or how well this portrays them or if it is completely slanted one way or the other. What I do know is that it makes for compelling entertainment. There are strong performances littered throughout adding to this value of more than I expected. Jon Bernthal especially stands out as an ex-con working in the yard for Matthews construction and trucking company. Bernthal plays a man trying to get his life back together with his wife and son, but is pulled back into things when his employer needs an introduction into the world. Susan Sarandon doesn't have much to do except play the strict enforcer role that really could have gone to anyone. Why they spent the money on Sarandon is beyond me. Barry Pepper also shows up looking like the incognito Johnny Depp from last years 21 Jump Street. As a DEA agent Pepper is a gritty agent who lends a nice bit of credibility to the going-ons while on the other side of things Michael Kenneth Williams does some nice work as drug dealer Malik. Heck, even Benjamin Bratt shows up for a couple of scenes to re-enforce the sleek, power and wealth of a top drug cartel. Then there are little parts that go to good character actors like David Harbour (End of Watch) and Harold Perrineau (Lost) that aren't here for very long, but nonetheless it is nice to see them. While Snitch breaks no barriers and will likely go overlooked until it hits DVD & Blu-Ray in a couple of months it is a fine effort with a real purpose, which is more than we can say about most action films right now.