Snitch (2013) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA rated: PG-13 for drug content and violence
Length: 112 min.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Michael K. Williams, Benjamin Bratt, Rafi Gavron, Melina Kanakaredes, Nadine Velazquez
Small role: Harold Perrineau
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Screenplay: Justin Haythe, Ric Roman Waugh
Based loosely on a true story that was prominently featured in the PBS series "Frontline", Dwayne Johnson (Fast Five, Get Smart) stars as John Matthews, a construction business-owning father who desperately is trying to save his 18-year-old son, Jason (Gavron, Breaking and Entering), from going to prison for a huge chunk of his life due to the rigidity of the Federal mandatory sentence drug charges in place. Jason had nothing to do with buying, selling, or even using the ecstasy that has been shipped to his house, only opening the package to help out a friend, who turns out to also be a victim of the drug sentence and is trying to use leverage to reduce his own sentence. The Feds put the squeeze on Jason, but he's not going to do the same to some other innocent, and big papa John cuts his own deal with the federal prosecutor, Joanne Keegan (Sarandon, Cloud Atlas), that will reduce Jason's sentence -- by catching a big fish drug dealer on his own.
Although the advertisements for Snitch would seem to indicate that the flick is standard action-movie fare, in actuality, this film by former stunt coordinator Ric Roman Waugh (In the Shadows) is actually more of a message-driven drama, similar to the one he delivered in his previous film, Felon. It is part an indictment of the ludicrous mandatory sentence drug laws, and part dramatic thriller, while only delivering on one big action scene late in the film involving Matthews trying to drive a semi containing a shipment of cash through the border to Mexico, while trying to avoid men with machine guns driving cars trying to take him down. That scene is truly impressive in its execution, and one can only wonder just how good Snitch might have been with more emphasis on action and less on a very contrived plot that, while well meaning in its message, is too stale and simple-minded to be truly compelling.
Other than the big action climax, the best thing about Snitch is its quality cast, with Johnson delivering yet again in both drama and action in a role that doesn't really rely on his additional charisma and brawn. But the finer performances go to supporting players like Jon Bernthal (World Trade Center, "The Walking Dead") as an ex-con trying to clean up his life after many mistakes, and Barry Pepper (True Grit, Casino Jack) as an undercover DEA agent walking a fine line trying to keep Matthews alive while the U.S. Attorney wants to reel in even bigger players in the drug cartel, regardless of the collateral damage their actions may cause.
While the film as a whole is a bag of mixed goods, Waugh does at least succeed in making laws involving mandatory sentencing look like a joke, though it is hard to laugh when some of those who break these laws pose very little threat to society, while the government puts the squeeze on them to snitch on others, putting themselves and their families potentially at risk. It's a message that may be delivered with the subtlety of a jackhammer, but then, those who might typically want to see a muscle-headed action flick may not really want to be overloaded with nuance and realistic portrayals of the penal process. If he is able to actually change some opinions, it is doubtful that Waugh will care whether film critics find his film to be too run-of-the-mill forgettable to recommend beyond fans of Johnson and lovers of TV-caliber action dramas.
©2013 Vince Leo