For anyone not tuned in to The Rock’s brand of rock-em, sock-em action movies, scoffing off Snitch as nothing more than a generic action thriller would be an easy thing to do. But dismissing it would be a mistake because, more than anything, Snitch is a message movie masquerading as an action thriller. On the flip side, the film is such a dramatic departure for the charismatic star that anyone expecting it to be an action movie will be setting themselves up for a seriously disappointing evening.
Johnson plays John Matthews, a simple and straight-shooting owner of a construction company, whose life is turned upside down when he is informed that his teenage son Jason, recently arrested for receiving a package containing Ecstasy pills, is facing a mandatory 10-30 year prison sentence even though it’s his first offence.
Desperate and with no one to turn to, Matthews goes to district prosecutor Joanne Kheegan (Susan Sarandron) for help but she blatantly informs him that the only way his son is getting out is if he can procure damning information on upper-level drug dealers. Left to his own devices, Matthews coaxes Daniel James (wonderfully played by The Walking Dead’s John Bernthal), one of his employees, to help set-up a meeting with dealers. Although reluctant at first, Daniel, an ex-con trying to set his life straight, agrees to help after Matthews offers him a hefty cash deal that would insure a crime-free life for his young son.
When Daniel introduces Matthews to a drug dealer named Malik (Michael K. Williams – essentially playing a watered down version of Omar from The Wire), Kheegan and her chief field operative, Agent Cooper (Barry Pepper, rocking a goatie so distracting it could be eligible for Best Supporting Actor consideration) jump in on the action since they now realize that Matthews may be the key in indicting numerous high-level drug lords.
The biggest problem plaguing Snitch isn’t its over-earnestness, extreme melodrama, lack of any light-hearted moments or its multitude of poorly shot scenes but believing Dwayne Johnson as an everyman. With his barrel chest, hulking frame and Wreck-it-Ralph arms, it’s a titanic task believing him as someone who doesn’t smash people into human mashed potatoes for a living. Simply put, Johnson is a guy born to play action heroes. His magnetic screen presence, charisma and great comedic timing only accent these physical assets. Although costume designer Kimberly Adams does her best to make Johnson look like a regular guy, dressing him up in long sleeved, over-sized shirts that deemphasize his body, it’s to no avail because anytime the plot corners him into a confrontational situation, a part of me wished he'd rip open his shirt, pick up an AK-47 and start mowing bad guys down.
But this isn't that type of cartoonish movie, and director Rick Roman Waugh and screenwriter Justin Haythe make that clear from one of the film's earliest scenes where Matthews, deciding to get into the underworld business on his own, gets his ass handed to him by a bunch of puny teens. It sends a message to the audience that this isn’t The Rock, badass action hero, you're watching, but Dwayne Johnson, serious actor.
Unfortunately, he still has some way to go as an actor. Although playing John Matthews represents a very admirable departure from his usual stuff – it's easily he best work of his career and shows that he’s taking risks as an actor – it’s also a very under-written role that strips away everything that’s appealing about him. What we're stuck with is a rather dull message movie that engages and gets its message across but only on the level of a TV Movie of the Week. Rent it.
Directed by: Rick Roman Waugh
Written by: Justin Haythe & Rick Roman Waugh
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, John Bernthal, Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper
Rated: R (for violence, drug content and some language)