Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper
John Mathews (Johnson) is a construction company owner that learns off his estranged son’s arrest for drug trafficking. Though his son was set up, and despite being a first time offender he is set to serve a long sentence due to minimum sentencing laws. Sentences can be reduced if information is provided that can lead to further arrests but he has no information and so he is set to serve a minimum of 10 years. In a desperate attempt to get his son’s sentence reduced, John convinces the DEA and an opportunistic local DA (Sarandon) to be allowed to work undercover and help make substantial arrests that would equal a reduced sentence for his son. However, completely out of his depth, John gets involved with a dangerous Mexican drug cartel that if everything goes right would lead to arrests that would allow his son to be released. However, if the slightest thing goes wrong it would put both his life, and that of the rest of his family, in serious danger.
Based on true events apparently, this always allows (at least) a little room for dramatic license and as concepts go this does admittedly sound a tad farfetched. That is alright though, as The Rock can always fight his way out if things go wrong? Well thankfully, Snitch takes a different approach; going for a slow burn plot and times when you would expect Mr. Johnson or one of his contemporaries just to happily fight their way out of seemingly impossible situations, he doesn’t. This mature approach is what in my view elevates Snitch as a superior genre piece in what is a heavily overstuffed genre. To say it is an intelligent thriller may be an overstatement, but it certainly takes refreshing approach.
It is often the case in these kind of films our protagonist makes a sudden transition from suburban everyman to the best fighter and shooter in the world, at the same time blasting away any integrity or believability. As an ex wrestler he is of course naturally a big built man, but compared to the vain popping muscle in GI JOE or Fast & Furious he does appear substantially toned down. He is obviously attempting as much as he can to play an everyman out of his depth, and does a surprisingly good job. While those aforementioned films were definitely The Rock (not necessarily a bad thing) this is Dwayne Johnson; and though he perhaps struggles with the more emotional scenes, he is a good screen presence and a character we do believe in and route for. Having good actors around him may help; this is the kind of role Sarandon can do in her sleep, but is dependably excellent, and Barry Pepper brings his usual intensity (and a rather fetching goatee).
Believable may be an exaggeration, because either way it is an outrageous concept, but both Johnson and the film as a whole do a solid job at giving us a character to believe in. At 115 minutes, it runs at a slow pace, and anyone expecting mindless fisticuffs should probably watch the latest Steve Austin film, as director Waugh and screenwriter Justin Haythe keep things as low key, plot driven, consistent and credible as they possibly can.
Though of course Snitch is no mind blowing masterpiece; there are of naturally plot holes aplenty and how it all pans out may never be in doubt, but how we get there is done in a very watchable and refreshingly consistent way. There is also some vague attempt at a political message about minimum sentencing laws in America in there somewhere, and though it may be done with integrity, never truly gets you thinking.
Considering the genre and leading man, Snitch is a surprisingly slow burn and low key film. Refreshingly never a barrage of mindless violence and with a solid leading turn from Johnson, as a one off viewing this is a very watchable and solid thriller.