The central plot in "Snitch" is quite simple: A father (Dwayne Johnson a.k.a. The Rock) convinces a federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) to allow him to go undercover for the DEA in the hopes of gathering evidence against a prominent drug cartel. If he succeeds, the felony charges against his 18 year-old son (Rafi Gavron) will be completely dropped.
While all that sounds familiar, the way the details are presented via the characters keeps you engaged, and surprisingly giving a crap, about what unfolds in this 112 minute action/drama.
First off, Johnson literally does NOT handout ass-kicking after ass-kicking. In fact, it’s the exact opposite – all the way down to his wardrobe (a.k.a. no gratuitous/obnoxious physique shots). And this turn or unexpected tweak is what makes this interesting. Plus, it gives Hollywood’s leading action-star a chance to showcase his other attributes that pack just as much punch. Same can be said for Sarandon’s shrewd just-above cameo work. Just when you think she’ll be compassionate to Johnson’s situation, the script working in-concert with her steadfast performance flips the tables and goes away from the obvious. And that angle (doing the opposite of the norm) is used frequently through the other notable players laced in this flick.
Some of the best character actors found in television are pulled into this. Michael Kenneth Williams (Boardwalk Empire) plays a high-end street dealer who pushes product for a Mexican cartel kingpin (Benjamin Bratt). Williams is introduced to Johnson by one of the latter’s employees, Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead). Bernthal wants to wash his hands of his drug-dealing past, but to support his family he reluctantly, and cautiously, agrees to help a seemingly desperate Johnson – who doesn’t fully reveal his motivations on why he randomly wants in on the drug-pushing game.
Watching Johnson’s back as he goes undercover is a no-nonsense DEA agent, sporting a Captain Lou Albano goatee, played by Barry Pepper (The Kennedys). Pepper more-or-less shadowing each “exchange” adds in that suspense element to scenes dominated by intense conversations. When those sequences are not occurring, all the pertinent characters receive a modest back-story so the audience can buy into their present actions as they get involved with such a risky endeavor. And yes, there are some gritty action sequences involving an in-house shootout, a brief fisticuff beat down, and a good-old fashion bumper-car/truck highway chase.
After digesting all the above, what comes out is a genuine provocative story that really only suffers from an unnecessary shaky camera at times. There may be parts of the story where you’ll say, “Come on, they’re going to allow this?” when banter about the justice system is analyzed. But the writing eventually swings around and catches up with the characters’ actions, and the majority of plot points end up making some sort of sense. And the theme of how far a father will go to help his son slides in with just enough substance.
Overall, "Snitch" covers all the angles and places its characters in situations the audience can latch onto. A few parts may seem far-fetched, but the performance of the rock-solid cast seals the deal and has you all-in on the direction the story takes.
Snitch is rated PG-13 and opens in the Tampa Bay market on Friday.