Most of the time, action movies don’t ask anyone to think about anything, so it comes as a relatively pleasant surprise that Snitch is a thinking person’s action flick. Really. It’s also loosely based on real events, but don’t let that deter you. The truly exciting part about this pulpy noir is that Dwayne Johnson is actually playing a multi-dimensioned person instead of a stock character like his last few action flicks, Faster and Fast Five. Those movies have a purpose, of course, but it’s nice to see Johnson metaphorically stretching his wings without taking a shortcut and slapping on Tooth Fairy wings instead. Because — let’s face it — that shit was getting old.
Johnson, who isn’t the most convincing actor but still has that movie-star glow, plays John Matthews, a solid, respectable business owner type of guy. This movie is essentially the story of John’s son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), whose only crime was to unwittingly accept a FedEx package full of MDMA/Ecstasy for one of his friends. Since the incident involves a very large quantity of the drug, the logical conclusion is that Jason may have harbored the intent to distribute, which computes into the hefty mandatory sentence of a decade. Nice friend, right? Well, Jason doesn’t know anyone involved higher up in the drug chain except the guy who set him up, so the kid isn’t able to rat anyone out to save himself and is basically screwed. The cops and lawyers working the case are largely eager to sacrifice Jason (even though everyone pretty much realizes he’s innocent) to the greater cause of the war on drugs. Not content to see his son rot in prison for no good reason, John pours on the Dwayne Johnson charisma and strikes a deal with a tough-as-nails prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) to go undercover along with Agent Cooper (Barry Pepper, not Kyle MacLachlan) and help snare some major cocaine dealers. The results of John’s quest are … a lot messier than he expected. Trade offs are made, but Benjamin Bratt is a ton of menacing fun as a huge drug lord named “El Topo.” I guess John Leguizamo wasn’t available, although Bratt kills it here.
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh (who is a former stuntman of so many movies including Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Crow, and True Romance), this film is great fun with some moral dilemmas woven into a tapestry of a noirish action thriller. The pacing of the project as a whole isn’t great; while the first forty minutes or so drag a little bit, the last half of the movie comes close to making up for it with some heart-pumping action scenes (or maybe that’s just the Dwayne Johnson effect). While the war on drugs gets dragged through the mud in this movie, Snitch doesn’t get overly preachy because it realizes that, ultimately, audiences are here for the entertainment factor. One could accuse this movie of not properly exploring an important set of social issues, but that’s not even the intent here. Instead, Johnson plays an everyday sort of guy who is confronted with a terrible situation that he chooses not to passively accept and, as such, risks his life to save his kid. If I could say anything really bad about this movie, it would be that perhaps the scenery is a bit too polished. The atmosphere should have been a little bit grittier, and that would help the overall feel of the film.
Otherwise, welcomely cheesy dialogue abounds here, and I think your enjoyment of this movie depends on expectations heading into the theater. If you’re expecting a mindless action film that relentlessly hits the pedal from start to finish, then you’ll probably be slightly disappointed. However, if you want to see Dwayne Johnson actually tackle a nuanced character and take you on a last-minute, thrill-seeking joyride, then you’ll dig this movie. At certain moments in the film, the drama seems a bit overbearing, but there’s a purpose to this yarn. And I’d love to see Johnson do more movies like this instead of bouncing berries off his nipples and dressing up in tutus. Mind you, I’d still watch that shit if he posted it to YouTube.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.