Snitch is not an action movie starring The Rock. Instead, Snitch is actually a thoughtful crime drama starring Dwayne Johnson, and cements the fact that Johnson has come into his own as a charismatic actor with a likeable screen presence – always a plus for a film’s leading man. In any case, the story here is inspired by true events. Johnson is John Matthews, an owner of a construction company, who makes a deal with authorities to release his son Jason from prison. Jason (Rafi Gavron) was set up in a sting operation by his best friend and is forced to serve a minimum prison sentence of 10 years as a first-time, nonviolent drug offender. Jason pleas to his father that he knows he deserves to be punished for his mistake but ‘not like this’.
And thus we come to the film’s message: a muddled critique on the severity of US drug laws. Under these laws an offender can reduce their sentence considerably by ratting out on their contacts. This perplexes me because, as the film illustrates, it enables someone who’s well entrenched in the drug trade to get off relatively scot-free while someone who’s only a first-time offender with no other connections to the trade is cornered with an unfair 10-year minimum sentence. If Snitch’s goal is to raise these issues as a talking point then no doubt it succeeds. The only problem is that it raises these issues but doesn’t really explore them, merely using them as a springboard for its own story by helping to get the audience on John and Jason’s side.
Since Jason has no contacts so is unable to reduce his sentence, his father makes a deal in his stead – John plans to use his construction business to infiltrate a drug cartel and thereby help the authorities to execute an elaborate bust. In exchange, US Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) promises to release Jason. Sounds like a great set up for an action movie right? It probably is but director Ric Roman Waugh plays things as realistically as possible. There’s actually very little action in the movie – a frenetic chase at the beginning gets things off to a disorienting start but there really isn’t much more thereafter, though when it does come it’s brief and filmed to feel within the realm of plausibility. Johnson is a big guy but here he’s not playing an action hero; John is simply a protective father who wants to do whatever he can for his son.
This is the film’s greatest strength – it resists the temptation to suddenly turn John into a badass on a mission. He’s just a normal guy in a difficult position. Johnson ably carries the movie in this role, but when time is dedicated to secondary characters like Daniel (Jon Bernthal), an ex-con with family issues who helps John, the story slows and becomes less engaging. Occasionally the melodrama is a bit much, and the whole thing is rather boring from a visual point of view, but Snitch nonetheless is a refreshing change from the typical B-grade action flick that gets churned out by the Hollywood machine.
Snitch is a realistic crime thriller with a murky commentary on drug laws and a side of melodrama.