Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon
Genre: Action, Adventure
Run Time: 112 mins
Opens: 14 March 2013
Rating: NC16 (Some Drug Use)
We’ve heard it a million times: “kids, say no to drugs”. We’ve heard it from Sonic the Hedgehog, Pee Wee Herman, Batman and every pop culture figure in between. Now, hear it from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Whatever he’s cooking, you can be sure it isn’t meth.
Johnson plays John Matthews, the owner of a construction company whose estranged son Jason (Rafi Gavron) is facing a minimum of 10 years in prison for distribution of drugs. John has a new wife and a young daughter, but the incident makes him feel responsible for his lack of involvement in his son’s life. John appeals to Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Sarandon), running for Congress on an anti-drug platform, to help his son’s case. He learns that the only way the sentence can be reduced is if he can snitch on a drug-dealer and help the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) make an arrest – hence the title.
John enlists the help of one his employees, ex-convict Daniel James (Bernthal), to set him up with a dealer and infiltrate a drug ring. Daniel is understandably reluctant as is he drawn back into the world he tried so hard to escape. DEA Agent Cooper (Pepper) heads a task force to supervise John’s actions undercover, and soon John and Daniel find themselves in way over both their heads, and John is put the test as he jumps through hoops to help get his son free.
Snitch purports itself to be based on a true story, and the premise draws inspiration from revisions to the Federal Drug Policy of the US that rewarded those who would rat out their accomplices. What’s interesting is that this isn’t an anti-drug spiel, but rather a look at the impact US drug laws have on the hoi polloi, particularly first-time offenders who aren’t even hardened criminals or traffickers but get severe sentences nonetheless.
It’s a movie that does feel very noble in its ambitions and strives for an air of social responsibility, but audiences don’t go to the movies to be lectured. It’s marketed as an action film, but it doesn’t satisfy in that regard until the climactic semi-truck chase. Snitch is heavy on the drama, and it is a good thing that we get to see how the families of John and Daniel are impacted by the events of the film, but it often borders on the maudlin. It’s also not exciting escapism, when it may well have been better off as such.
The film rides on Dwayne Johnson’s broad shoulders, and it’s a good thing that he’s up to the task. Taking on this film seems like a wise career choice: it’s a way for the wrestler to earn more “serious acting” stripes, while still pulling action hero duty. It turns out that he can play “vulnerable” just as well as “tough” and “determined”. If the Rock is wigged out by the tough cartel guys, than us regular folk had better be as well. It’s not the kind of film that allows him to arch his People’s Eyebrow or flash a toothy grin, but maybe that’s just what he needs.
Jon Bernthal, best known as Shane Walsh on TV’s The Walking Dead, feels like more of an everyman than Johnson does and is not bad as his conflicted partner, primarily succeeding in making us feel as much for Daniel as for John. However, it’s Barry Pepper and Susan Sarandon who are the star supporting players. Pepper, sporting a Sons of Anarchy-esque beard, is barely recognisable and completely believable as a DEA Agent who has experienced life undercover embedded in drug cartels, and Sarandon comfortably inhabits her relatively small role as the politician who might be actually be helpful. Benjamin Bratt puts in an appearance as a big bad cartel kingpin, but doesn’t get enough screen time to offer up much more than usual stereotype.
Former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh directs the film competently, but can’t quite find his footing as the movie struggles to reconcile its “socially conscious drama” and “guns blazing action flick” sides. It is admirable that the movie aspires to be more than a run-of-the-mill actioner and it’s great to see Dwayne Johnson flexing his acting muscles in addition to his actual muscles, but it isn’t a fun time at the theatre, nor a particularly thought-provoking one.
SUMMARY: It’s neither a proper drama nor an actual action flick, but Snitch sees Dwayne Johnson come into his own as an actor, and deserves points for attempting to tackle a social issue from a new perspective.