published: February 26, 2013
Billed as the action-packed, inspired-by-a-true-story tale of how far a father will go to help his son, “Snitch” is a labored tale of crime, punishment and semi-vigilantism.
The movie begins with a naïve 20-something named Jason, who's talked into accepting and selling a large bag of ecstasy for a friend. This business opportunity turns sour when the boy discovers he has been set up by said friend and is about to go to prison for a minimum of 10 years. To shorten his son's sentence, construction business man John Matthews, played by Dwayne Johnson, helps the DEA to bust drug dealers and suppliers by going undercover as a drug mule himself.
Unfortunately, what looked to be an exciting, adrenaline-pumping movie fell flat. Even with car chases a-plenty, guns, drugs, violence and good ol' family values, Director Ric Roman Waugh's "Snitch" was pretty forgettable.
Its attempt at a scathing view of drug trade and punishment in the USA was muddled in indecision. At most points, the drug trade and dealers were portrayed as brutes and thugs who only speak in violence, and so it seems we have cast our villains. But the film's dialogue and seemingly random final remark of the severe punishment for drug-related offenses were markedly anti-law-and-order. While it certainly gets us thinking, there didn’t seem to be an over-arching theme.
Which way the script was trying to lean, even screenwriters Justin Haythe and Ric Roman Waugh were unclear. And unlike the coy love of the outlaw in other action films, this seemed more like sloppy script editing than intentional ambiguity. Conversely, many moments of dialogue provided noticeable exposition and didn't leave much opportunity for the audience to figure things out themselves. The movie's strongest moments were in silence. That, in itself, is telling of the script's weakness.
The look and sound of “Snitch” kept it interesting. While cinematography choices like using a handheld as Jason was chased in the start were a little dizzying at first, camera placement and use fits the mood of each scene well. With unusual angles and unexpected points of focus, it keeps our attention as we continue to wonder why we’re seeing what we’re seeing. And though the pseudo-Celtic music through various action-driven parts of the film seemed more like an unintentional “Departed” homage, it did lend energy and dimension to the film.
As concerned father and all-around good guy/tough guy John Matthews, Dwayne Johnson fit the shoes surprisingly well. Johnson exceeded the very limited range that the script allowed him, and was somewhat hampered by those limitations. His turn in this more subdued, but still macho role was well played for its writing and may be Johnson's step up to more emotional availability. As a piece for his resume, “Snitch” offered Johnson the opportunity to play a fish out of water in the world of crime and drug lords. In that respect, he did very well.
Playing Matthews' ex-con employee and eventual business partner was Jon Bernthal as Daniel James. Fans of AMC's The Walking Dead will recognize Bernthal, although his character in Snitch is far more genuine. Playing a bad-guy-turned-honest-man, Bernthal's intensity set fire to the screen. His ability to show subtext and flip the switch between good guy to bad was hypnotizing. Even as a secondary character in the film, Bernthal is very memorable.
Playing long-time DEA agent Cooper was Barry Pepper. Pepper’s portrayal of the seasoned cop with a hardened exterior and hidden earnestness made him altogether compelling to watch. His choice to dramatically underplay many moments where others would have gone for shouting and stomping brought this somewhat amorphous movie back into shape and put its feet on the ground.
Supporting these major characters were Rafi Gavron as Jason, Susan Sarandon as State Prosecutor Joanne Keeghan, Michael Kenneth Williams as drug dealer Malik, and Benjamin Bratt as the viciously debonair drug supplier "El Topo." If any movie had a great and believable atmosphere, "Snitch" is it and is has this supporting cast is to thank. Each performance wove another layer of corruption and intrigue to create this inspired-by-a-true-story movie.
Overall, “Snitch” was somewhat forgettable. In the moment, we enjoy the performances and a car chase here and there. The script writing and perceived lack of editing were the most glaring weaknesses, however. By the time the credits roll, we’ve watched a movie that has tried to be many different things and hasn’t truly succeeded at any of them. It became a slave to many, instead of a master of one.
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