‘Snitch,’ starring Dwayne Johnson (‘The Rock’), is a surprisingly engaging ‘based-on-true-events’ film, detailing the lengths to which a father might go to save his son from decades-long incarceration.
John Matthews (Johnson) is a fairly well-off owner of a prosperous trucking business, who is living the good life with his beautiful second wife and their young daughter. All seems well in Matthews’ world until his 18-year-old son (who lives separately with Matthews’ first wife) is set-up by a Skype friend to accept a box full of illegal drugs via a delivery service. It is soon revealed that the feds were in on this sting operation in an attempt to net drug dealers, and Matthews’ son (Rafi Gavron) is now caught up in federal mandatory sentencing laws. The 18-year-old son, with no prior legal involvement, now faces at least a mandatory 10-year-sentence, possibly up to 30 years, unless he can divulge or set-up other drug dealers.
Johnson’s character decides he must rescue his son from his seemingly predetermined fate, himself, by finding a big-time drug dealer, and giving all the evidence to the icy, self-involved federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon). He plans to go undercover with local drug lords by offering his semi trucks to smuggle their substances. Matthews hatches his not-well-thought-out plan by hooking himself to one of his trucking employees with a narcotics arrest record (a riveting Jon Bernthal), who leads him to a local drug supplier, who, in turn, leads Matthews to involvement with a major Mexican drug lord. Matthews now has to figure out how to get enough evidence against the kingpins to have the federal prosecutor commute (or even eliminate) his son’s seemingly mandatory federal sentence while not being killed or found out by the major drug runners.
At first, the film is heavy on drama and scenes are clunky. Johnson’s strengths are not in heavy dramatic soliloquies with extended phone monologues and long conversations, and his repeated one-sided phone calls (early in the movie) seem extremely forced and uncomfortable to watch. Nevertheless, Johnson starts to step up his game when encountering Sarandon. Sarandon is spot-on as a politically motivated federal prosecutor who has her eyes only on the prize of a Congressional seat and cares little for Matthew’s concerns about his son. Perhaps as a result of Sarandon’s emotionally distant portrayal, Johnson’s character then begins to demonstrate a greater degree of despondency, and the audience is pulled into a more subtle performance than we are used to getting from the former 'The Rock.' Johnson is further bolstered by other supporting performances, most notably Jon Bernthal’s (Shane from ‘The Walking Dead’) nuanced portrayal of a desperate two-strikes former drug runner, who is caught between staying clean in a mainstream low-end job and trying to procure drug money to support his wife and child.
Certainly, there is some action, as Johnson’s character is trying to seek favor and also survive in interactions with drug lords. But, the explosions, car/truck chases, and shootings are few and far between, and are a long way from what you might expect from one of the stars of the upcoming of ‘G.I. Joe: Retribution.’ In fact, the action is so tame in the first half of the film, one wonders, for awhile, why the PG-13 designation was even needed. While action does occur, most of it is self-protective and not always vengefully aggressive. Surprisingly, Johnson never takes off his shirt nor opens a can of protracted physical punishment on anyone during the film. Ultimately, the film comes across much more strongly as a medium for political discussion about the moral and legal support for mandatory drug sentencing without regard to other individual factors.
In sum, the former ‘The Rock’s’ performance, though still in need of refinement, is remarkably engaging as he relates his absolute determination to save his son, at almost any personal cost. As a whole, this far exceeds other recent action fare and may even bring up some political food for thought afterwards.
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