There’s no denying it, Snitch is a bit of a weird film. Not so much in content but definitely in approach and execution as writer/director Ric Roman Waugh casts Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a man who’s built like a leather-bound fire hydrant and who has made a career of putting rather large boots to asses, in a role where he has to tone down all his prodigious physical gifts to play a soft mannered, concerned parent.
When it comes to the drama, Johnson is literally the 200 pound gorilla in this room, and yet, somehow, all of this monkeying around occasionally works.
While Snitch’s so called “true story” may actually contain about as much actual truth as an episode of Monday Night RAW, it’s still an interesting setup. Johnson’s John Matthews is an ex-divorcee slash successful construction company owner whose estranged son from his first marriage faces serious jail time after he gets caught on a drug trafficking charge. However the boy was actually set up by a “friend” who was trying to lower his own drug trafficking sentence by helping cops to make arrests. Young Jason gets offered the same opportunity, but clearly he’s a Ricky Bobby fan and remembers that “snitches get stitches” so he instead opts to rather just take the completely bogus and unjust punishment like a man.
But old man Matthews ain’t having none of this, especially the whole “taking it like a man” part which he knows has a totally different meaning in prison, so he proposes to ambitious district attorney Susan Sarandon the crazy plan of not so li’l old him going out and doing the snitching, hopefully bringing in a crook or two, all in return for Jason’s sentence being reduced.
Soon, with the assistance of both undercover police guy Barry Pepper and undercover police guy Barry Pepper’s Very Fake Beard, Matthews finds himself up to his bullish neck in clandestine meetings, trigger happy Mexicans and highway shootouts.
Except, really not so much with the Mexican shootouts as the trailers would have you believe, as Waugh mostly ditches the film’s action leanings, instead using the character of Matthews to soapbox a bit about the terrible injustice of the US justice system and their mandatory minimum sentencing. And choosing to flex his acting instead of his chest and forehead muscles, Johnson admittedly carries the dramatic portion of the film rather admirably. I don’t expect to see his name up next to the Christoph Waltzes and Daniel Day-Lewises quite yet, but it’s all still very solid work that will have you believing that he is really nothing more than a desperate, out of his depth father facing an impossible task, who just so happens to look like he could easily bench press his entire family in one go.
Joining Johnson in the “good leading actors” portion of this review is the always excellent Jon Bernthal as Daniel James, an ex-con employee at Matthews’ construction company who just wants to stay on the straight and narrow. But since the very suburban Matthews’ only preparation for infiltrating the local drug cartels is opening Wikipedia and typing in the words “drug cartels” (seriously), he convinces the reluctant James to introduce him to the seedier side of town.
Now while most of the earlier parts of the film are resigned to public service announcements, once the drug dealing gets underway it moves into family drama territory as Matthews’ extra-currricular activities takes a toll on both his and James’ loved ones. And while it’s hard to not notice both social issues pontificating and family drama dipping into cliché from time to time, softening their messages a bit, it’s never so overt that you feel insulted by it.
The biggest problems come in once we leave this drama for the more action-centric bits of the film, most of which occur in the third act. Johnson does as much as he can with the definitely not an action hero character of Matthews, but Waugh shows a clumsiness behind the camera that results in action scenes that commit that most heinous crime of being neither good nor terrible enough to actually be memorable.
Certainly not helping matters are the lazy, very convenient little bits of plotting that not only lead to these perfunctory action sequences but also places Matthews at loggerheads with a Mexican drug kingpin played by the oil-slick Benjamin Bratt. It all just seems far too fortuitous for Matthews to go from meeting with ghetto dealing Malik, played by born-to-be-a-gangster actor Michael Kenneth Williams, to potentially being able to singlehandedly take down an entire cartel, all before before you can raise a People’s Eyebrow in question.
All in all though, while Snitch is definitely not a superb film by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a surprisingly decent (and emotionally driven) one, carried on the rather large and a unexpectedly soft shoulders of Dwayne Johnson, who proves that he is more than just a pair of biceps with a million dollar smile. And while I definitely don’t expect this film to set anything, critical or box office-wise alight, if you have 110 minutes to spare you could certainly do a lot worse.
Last Updated: March 5, 2013