by Daniel Rester
From the ads, Snitch just looked to be a typical crash-crash-bang-bang action film featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doing what he does best (kicking ass). But the ads, unfortunately, are misleading, because Snitch is much better than an everyday action film. In fact, it’s really more of a drama with a few moments of action sprinkled in. And the bulky Johnson does better than expected, playing a determined father rather than tough-guy hero.
Johnson plays John Matthews, a construction business owner who gets in over his head after his son (Rafi Gavron) is sent to prison for “drug distribution.” The boy, named Jason, was actually set up by his friend, who dropped Jason’s name and pinned a package of ecstasy on him. That package gives Jason a minimum of ten years in prison. Determined to reduce Jason’s sentence, John agrees to help the DEA bring down some major drug kingpins. This leads John to Daniel James (Jon Bernthal, who played Shane on The Walking Dead), one of John’s construction workers who has a past connection to drug dealers – including a middleman named Malik (Michael K. Williams, who played Omar on The Wire) and a cartel heavyweight named “El Topo” (Benjamin Bratt). The dealers don’t suspect John as a snitch, as he shifts their attention towards the big rigs he can provide for drug transportation.
Snitch is another drama supposedly inspired by true events. While the story was probably heavily fictionalized, the film does play out realistically for the most past. It is true that first-time convictions for large drug distributions are extensive, with those guilty (often young adults) often receiving bigger sentences than rapists. Usually the DEA has those directly guilty doing the snitching on others, though, instead of family members or anyone else. Even so, Snitch has a certain believability about it and a lot to say about laws having to do with drug distribution.
The film is directed by Ric Roman Waugh, and written by Waugh and Justin Haythe. The two do a fine job at balancing the film’s crime drama elements with those of family melodrama. And while the script has its share of clichés, it also manages to keep the audience guessing at certain turns. The best thing going for Snitch, though, are the characters, who are interesting and well-developed. Snitch does lack momentum in its script, however, and some of its dialogue is flavorless. But Waugh does well in the director’s seat, never resorting to flashiness and instead letting the story do its thing, however slow-paced it may be – until the third act, which displays some unneeded car smashing and gun blasting. He manages to give the film a B-movie noir feel at times, too, setting some of the drama in grungy houses and dark streets.
The characters are good on the page, but are really given life by an excellent cast. Johnson gives one of his best performances yet, more subdued than intimidating as John. The wrestler-turned-actor still stumbles a bit when trying to run the gamut of emotions, but he is effective and likable in the lead. Snitch also benefits from the supporting performances by Susan Sarandon (as an official who assigns John the task of getting the drug dealers), Gavron, Williams, and Bratt. But the film’s standouts are Bernthal and Barry Pepper; Bernthal is terrific as Daniel, a screw-up trying to go straight, while Pepper (sporting a wicked beard) is equally as good as a DEA agent.
Snitch is a solid drama that has something to say, but it is also somewhat forgettable and lacks a certain punch at times. With a little more energy and a shorter length, Snitch could have been great. As is, it is completely watchable and features a strong cast and well-rounded characters. I just wish I could say I’ll remember it in a year’s time, but I probably won’t.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B).