Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, set to grace our screens in four films in 2013 – G.I Joe, Fast and Furious 6 and Pain & Gain are the others – gives quite an affecting performance in the forgettable, often-preposterous Snitch, a crime thriller directed by former stunt man Ric Roman Waugh.
When his estranged son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), is charged for possession of ecstasy, the victim of a setup, John Matthews (Johnson), an owner of a construction business, desperately tries to help him escape a minimum 10-year prison sentence.John meets with U.S Attorney Joanne Keeghan (a snippy Susan Sarandon), who is in the midst of running an aggressive anti-drug campaign and cracking down on distribution. She is immovable on the newly introduced mandatory sentencing, but is willing to compromise and allow John a chance to reduce Jason’s sentence. John agrees to infiltrate and provide intel on a local drug ring run by Malik (Michael K. Williams in less-cool Omar mode).
The premise is far-fetched, the message thinly addressed. It is clear that Waugh and his screenwriting partner Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road) are in opposition to these aggressive mandatory sentences that do not take into account first time convictions and potential set up of innocents, and rely on the involvement of criminals cooperating as informants who have personal benefits in their interest. What happens down the line when an informant is released and runs into the one who informed on him?
Jason’s decision not to turn on anyone is admirable. In this case he didn’t know anyone other than the friend who set him up, but when his father ends up being involved in a high-speed freeway pursuit, risking the lives of motorists in the process, it is hard to justify any need for these lengths. The father/son drama is overdone and somewhat hypocritical in this regard, and what is asked of John – further undercover work to catch a kingpin, and not merely a top-level pusher – far exceeds what should have been expected of him. The moralities in this film are a concern.
Johnson uses his hefty screen presence (years as a WWF entertainer) in delivering one of his most considered and dramatic performances. We back the guy and feel concern for him, considering his prep research into drug cartels was Wikipedia. Though his relationship with Jason is distant, and he is separated from the boy’s mother (Melina Kanakaredes), he has built a new family with Analisa (Nadine Velazquez). Like John's assisting employee, Daniel (John Bernthal), who finds himself lured back into the crime game after doing time and swearing to never return, John puts his family first and his kamikaze heroics are more affecting than they have business being.
The initial transportation sequence is drawn out, and this builds some effective tension. The final chase sequence is also quite well staged but it is a pity that the photography and editing throughout, even during simple face-to-face exchanges, is so appalling.
Despite the thin politics, familiar undercover narc premise and lackluster direction, Snitch has compelling sequences and is an intermittently moving story about a man willing to go to any lengths to support his family. Fans of The Rock will likely be impressed, and he and Bernthal make a pretty good team, but this is not a film I will remember for long, nor think about again.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22