Snitch is by far Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s most entertaining film in years. Tightly written, well-acted and directed, and featuring an A-list cast surrounding Johnson, this “inspired by true events” thriller is intense from start to finish and certainly worthy of your attention.
Johnson stars as John Matthews, a one-time trucker and owner of a successful construction company. John has a stable, quiet life, but he ends up putting it all at risk when his teenage son Jason (Rafi Gavron) gets caught in a drug sting. Jason is a first-time offender, not a hardened criminal or drug dealer in any way, but current minimum sentencing laws for drug possession with the intention of distribution mandate for Jason a decades-long federal prison stay unless he helps the DEA catch other drug dealers. Jason refuses, and so it falls to his father to find a way to get his son out of jail before the young man’s character and loyalty to his friends gets him killed.
John’s solution, which an ambitious State Attorney looking for re-election (Susan Sarandon) reluctantly signs off on, is to try to complete a major drug deal himself using an ex-con currently working for his company, Daniel (Jon Bernthal), to facilitate “an introduction” into the drug world. Daniel connects John with Malik (Michael K. Williams), a small-time hood with major aspirations for escalating the scale of his cocaine dealing, and a one-time deal is set up. Dealing with Malik, however, brings John and his trucking resources to the attention of a major drug cartel, and very quickly he finds himself way in over his head and being used by the Feds to capture a powerful druglord and confiscate hundreds of millions in cash. It then becomes a question of who can John trust, and will any of the risk and potential sacrifice actually make any difference for Jason, whose own life is in danger every day that he’s in prison.
The first thing you should be aware of going into this film, especially if you are a fan of “The Rock” and his action film work, is that this is most certainly NOT an action film, and all the car chases and gunplay you might see in the film’s promotional trailers pretty much make up the entirety of the action and stunt work in the film. You can’t really blame the studio and their marketing people for playing up the bullets and explosions — it’s Johnson’s action work, after all, that’s his consistent draw.
But it’s films like this that actually show Dwayne Johnson’s range and ability, particularly when given a solid, efficient script and surrounded by a great supporting cast that can help further up his game. In particular, former Walking Dead regular Jon Bernthal gives a standout performance as the recently-reformed Daniel, and Sarandon looks like she’s having a ton of fun playing exactly the kind of politically-minded opportunist she’d never be caught dead supporting or voting for. Barry Pepper (True Grit, Saving Private Ryan) also contributes a solid effort as a character rarely seen in today’s crime dramas: a DEA agent who isn’t corrupt and that actually cares about the effect his work and his agency’s policies have on the lives of everyday people.
It might be a bit too much to say that Johnson exceeds or outshines all that talent on screen with him. Better to say that he holds his own as he goes to great lengths to convincingly play the “everyman”, walking through scenes with stooped shoulders and never once baring his arms, even to wear short sleeves. His earnest, understated performance especially registers in his quiet, one-on-one scenes with Gavron, as the two play a father and son estranged and distrustful of one another thanks to divorce and separate lives.
He only partly succeeds, however, and it’s the very physicality that allows him to so easily sell his action roles that works against him here. He’s just so physically huge that it’s impossible to completely buy his anxiety and fear in the face of drug dealers and killers – you’ll likely spend a good part of the movie waiting for him to cock his eyebrow and open up a can of whupass on everyone around him, cop and crook alike. In the film’s one fistfight, Johnson’s character does not fare well at all, and to see him crumpled in a heap and helplessly beat on by a gang is a strange sight, indeed. It just looks … wrong.
That said, the rest of the action in the film, as shot by director and one-time stuntman Ric Roman Waugh (who also contributed to the script), is solid, gripping work that holds your attention and thrills without resorting to the over-the-top silliness you’re likely to see in Johnson’s other upcoming films, G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Fast & Furious 6. In particular, the chase that comprises the film’s climactic moments provides a very satisfying payoff to the suspense built in the film’s third act and the whole movie in general.
All in all, it’s fine work that everyone in the production, especially Johnson and director Roman Waugh, should be proud of. Treat yourself to what “The Rock” has cooked up: you won’t be disappointed.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal, Michael K. Williams, Melina Kanakaredes, Nadine Velazquez, Rafi Gavron, David Harbour, with Benjamin Bratt and Susan Sarandon. Directed by Ric Roman Waugh.
Running Time: 112 minutes
Rated PG-13 for drug content and sequences of violence.