Snitch is perplexing. Despite the promise of Dwayne “It’s Okay to Call Me The Rock Again” Johnson, plenty of action, and a poster that’s oddly similar to the The Rock’s last action flick, what writer/director Ric Roman Waugh and co-writer Justin Haythe deliver is a character study that’s short on action and a treatise whose true purpose is to lecture the audience on the the evils of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug-related crimes.
Despite being the most physically intimidating figure in the entire film, The Rock’s role is written as a upper-middle class suburban dad with little to no experience with violence. The Rock’s part seems obviously written for a schlub (Paul Giamatti would have made for far more natural casting). Choosing The Rock for a heavily dramatic role that doesn’t acknowledge, let alone make use of, his natural assets as an action star may allow the wrestler turned actor to broaden his breadth of work, but it’s just one of many odd choices Snitch makes during it’s nearly two-hour running time (which is about half-an-hour too long).
The film begins with a relatively good teenager making a bad mistake allowing his drug dealing friend to send a package of drugs to his home. Given the amount of drugs Jason (Rafi Gavron) receives, the teen faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison without any hope of parole. Unable to snitch on any other drug dealers and unwilling to set-up others to take a similar fall, which is the only option available to reduce his sentence, the young man has no way out.
In steps John Matthews (The Rock), Jason’s estranged father, who pleads with the one woman (Susan Sarandon) who can reduce his son’s sentence to let John deliver a big time dealer to her doorstep in exchange for lightening Jason’s sentence. Despite the Federal Prosecutor’s initial reluctance, John eventually sells her no the idea and uses a new employee (Jon Bernthal) recently released from prison to make his way up a drug organization for someone important enough (Benjamin Bratt) to trade for his son.
As I’ve stated, despite what the trailer may lead you to believe, Snitch isn’t an action movie. All the action, except for one short chase sequence and The Rock getting beaten down by a quartet of drug dealers for all of 10 seconds, takes place in the film’s final 15 minutes. And at no time, even in the climactic highway shoot ‘em up, does The Rock’s character resemble any kind of bad ass. As mind-boggling at it sounds, for Snitch to work we are forced to accept The Rock as an everyman (and kind of a wuss). Needless to say, this is easier said than done.
Despite casting an enormous figure to play a relative wuss on camera, the script has other issues which include it’s inability to decide how smart John really is. He’s dumb enough to sign up for the undercover assignment without ever considering how the short-term or long-term consequences of getting in business with thugs and drug dealers might harm his sexy new wife (Nadine Velazquez) and young daughter (Kyara Campos). However, he’s also smart enough to come up with a over-complicated plan to take down the drug supplier and save both his son and his employee whose life, and the lives of his family, John has also put in danger with his recent rash decisions.
Sometimes I point out a director of photography for the amazing work shooting a movie. This is not one of those times. I don’t come to praise cinematographer Dana Gonzales, but instead to ask that all his cameras be taken away from him with all deliberate speed. Snitch is a victim of several shaky cam shots and inexplicable close-ups (particularly when John visits his son in prison) that are distracting at best (and a deliberate crime against cinema at worst).
Snitch provides a nice, if completely hamfisted, message about the evils of mandatory minimums that ends up putting more innocent people in danger over the course of the film than the drug dealers it puts in prison. Despite being based on a true story, the script has obviously gotten the Hollywood treatment and it’s final sequence (which ties every single loose thread up in a perfect bow) is more than a little hard to swallow. It’s not a bad film, but Snitch doesn’t quite work as a character-driven drama and has no interest in being the kind of action film that would better suit the talent assembled here.