The Rock. I would have never thought The Rock would become a bona fide movie star, but I'll eat my words when it's called for. Proving me wrong again, Dwayne Johnson stars in 2013's The Snitch, again proving he's got some genuine acting chops.
Married and with a daughter, John Matthews (Johnson) owns a previously successful but struggling construction business. His world is turned upside down when he finds out his son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), has been arrested and charged with distribution of narcotics. It seems to be an open and shut case facing a minimum sentence of 10 years. The district attorney (Susan Sarandon) offers him a lighter sentence should he snitch/testify against any other known drug dealers/distributors, but Jason doesn't know anyone else. Knowing his son's future hangs in the balance, John makes a desperate decision. He decides to go undercover himself, to become a snitch, and do what Jason wasn't able to do in hopes of limiting his son's sentence. John finds a way in to the drug and criminal underworld, but with just one mistake his plan could crumble in an instant.
Released this past February in theaters, 'Snitch' was billed as a typical action shoot 'em up starring THE ROCK!!!! It earned $42 million and earned decent reviews but never really took off. It's too bad because it is a solid, dramatic and exciting -- if not action-packed -- thriller. Supposedly based on true events, I think it is more effective because it isn't two hours of mindless action. It focuses on story and characters so kudos to stuntman turned director Ric Roman Waugh (writing the script with Justin Haythe). There is action -- more on that later -- but it isn't the main focus. The look of the movie is cold and dulled, the music from composer Antonio Pinto a mix of trance and synthesized sounds that helps build the tension and drama as John gets deeper and deeper into the drug world.
When Johnson made the jump from WWE to films, I figured he'd be a more than worthy action star. With movies like the Fast Five series, The Rundown, Doom, and Faster, he more than showed his action capabilities. With each passing movie though, I've been more impressed with his acting ability too. Playing a father trying to save his son from an extended jail sentence, Johnson is a very strong lead. He's making a decision that could ruin his own life, especially with his wife (Nadine Velasquez) and daughter waiting at home, but he plods on even though the danger increases with each passing moment. His business is struggling, but John dives in headfirst to help save his son. Nice work by Johnson. Also look for Melina Kanakaredes as his ex-wife and Jason's Mom, Sylvie.
'Snitch' it at its best once John decides to go undercover and snitch himself. Where his son wouldn't turn informer, John will do whatever it takes. The tension is a key ingredient mostly because there's no room for failure. All the people he meets would not think twice about putting a bullet in his head if they found out what he's up to. The always reliable, always watchable Barry Pepper is a scene-stealer as Cooper, the DEA agent working with John to reel in a kingpin. Walking Dead star Jon Bernthal is similarly very good as Daniel, an ex-con working at John's construction company who offers him an in to the drug world. It's a part that could have been one big stereotype, but as another desperate family fan, Bernthal makes it that much better. Michael Kenneth Williams similarly avoids being a stereotype as Malik, Daniel's main contact, a low-level dealer with lots of connections. Even look for Benjamin Bratt as El Topo, a powerful man in the Nuevo Leon drug cartel with JD Pardo as his main enforcer. Harold Perrineau and David Harbour also co-star.
So while the focus is on the story and characters, the intensity and tension, let's not forget about the action. It is parceled out over the course of the movie, but when it makes an appearance, it is more than worthwhile. John's "in" is to work as a driver for a cartel, using his company's 18-wheelers to move supply. His first job offers an action surprise courtesy of an ambush from another cartel. The highlight though is the finale -- go figure -- as John is tasked with smuggling cartel money into Mexico. A car chase and shootout on the highway offers plenty of action to get your blood boiling with plenty of cool stunts.
If there's one flaw, it's the message here. The script criticizes drug laws that come down so harshly on drug dealers, distributors and basically anyone caught with drugs. The counter point is that these sentences have longer sentences than crimes of rape, manslaughter and other crimes. It may be a fair point, but a crime is a crime. The point itself is muddled. Are we supposed to feel bad for Jason? He wasn't going to sell the drugs, but he agreed to have them sent to his parent's house. Are we supposed to congratulate him for not being a snitch? These are issues, but not deal breakers. It's a good movie regardless, well worth seeking out.
Snitch (2013): ***/****