Movie Review – Snitch
– Summary –
Director : Ric Roman Waugh
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Benjamin Bratt, Jon Bernthal, Michael Kenneth Williams, Rafi Gavron, Melina Kanakaredes, David Harbor.
Approx Running Time : 112 Minutes
Synopsis: After his son is imprisoned for suspected drug dealing, a working-class businessman strikes a deal with the District Attorney to provide arrests in major drug syndicate rings to reduce the mandatory sentence.
What we think : Crackerjack premise is mishandled by director Waugh, although that’s not the fault of lead star Dwayne Johnson. The leaden pacing mitigates the tension of the film, coupled with an inability by the script to really handle the miscarriage of justice on display here, and the end result is a movie that’s strikingly filmed, well acted by most (with the exception of Sarandon, who plays her part like she’s in a kids film!) and typically well produced, but lacks a certain frisson to excite the viewer. Not entirely worthless, but certainly below par.
Kids, don’t do drugs.
As a vocal non-fan of the American justice system, and all its iniquities, a film like Snitch is something of an eye opener. Probably not as much as director Ric Roman Waugh might have liked, but an eye opener nonetheless. The issue of drugs in America is something that’s been long a focal point for filmmakers – director Steven Soderberg snagged an Oscar for his take on the issue, with Traffic – but the core ingredient in the drug-flick genre has typically been more oriented around the action/crime genres. Snitch tries its hand at being both a drama and an action film, and while I’d love to report that it does both equally well, the fact is that the entire movie never quite kicks into high gear. Not for lack of trying, mind you, especially with a decent leading role performance by former WWE star, Dwayne Johnson. It’s a strangely inept mix of drama and action, with little actual drama and only a marginally interesting sense of action, which prevents Snitch from being the indictment on American law it could have been.
John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) gets a call from his ex wife (Melina Kanakaredes) to find his eldest son, Jason (Rafi Gavron) has been set up by one of his friends with a package of drugs; the DEA incarcerates him for the state’s minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years. Trying to find a way to reduce the sentence so his son doesn’t end up dead while inside, John decides to help the District Attorney, Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) in her quest to get elected to congress via a platform of drug control. John uses the knowledge of one of his employees, an ex drug criminal named Daniel (Jon Bernthal), to set him up with a meet to get an inside track on the drug trade. Daniel, himself looking to escape his criminal past and care for his young family, begrudgingly hooks him up with local kingpin Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams), who in turn arranges a deal with a drug cartel boss known as El Topo (Benjamin Bratt) – as the drug deals become more valuable, Keeghan and her chief DEA agent, Cooper (Barry Pepper), use John for their own political agenda, although John isn’t without a few plans of his own.
One of the most abhorrent things I took away from this film was the misalignment of the US justice system with regards to drugs. Currently, the US law states that drug trafficking results in a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 10 years, while many other crimes, such as rape and manslaughter carry much more lenient sentencing possibilities. It’s this crucial idea to which Snitch evolves as a dramatic work – a man’s son is framed as a drug mule, gets sentenced for the 10 years, and the father must do whatever he can to have him released, even if it means risking his own life. Snitch is apparently inspired by a true story (which allows for embellishments and changes for the sake of dramatic effect) and to a degree, works well enough as an indictment on this disproportionate level of punishment. As a dramatic film, it’s a little too unfocussed, and as an action film, there’s too few sequences to raise the pulse beyond a steady stationary rate of beat, but in amongst the weak plotting, occasionally generic characterization, and somewhat inept direction, a rough diamond lurks for those willing to endure it. Key to the film is the performance of The Rock…. um, I mean, Dwayne Johnson. Without Johnson’s charisma, without his solid, don’t-blink performance as John Matthews, this film would be a disaster.
Johnson’s magnetic screen persona lifts what is a relatively pedestrian film above mediocrity – but only just. I really enjoy Johnson’s roles generally, and even if he’s in films that suck, at least you know with Johnson, he’s giving it 100%. Snitch is no different: surrounded by a story that wanders between family drama, crime genre archetypes and sub-par action elements, Johnson can stand proud and tall and say with certainty that the failure of this film to connect with audiences had little to do with him. He’s surrounded by able participants, including a bizarrely inadequate Susan Sarandon, a solid Barry Pepper (sporting one hell of a weird-ass beard) and a softly-softly Jon Bernthal, but none of them are able to do anything with their limited roles. Bernthal probably comes off the best, with some time given to establishing his family and his life circumstance, a way of giving his own personal journey something of weight as the story progresses. It’s a good effort, to try this, but it means the focus comes of Johnson, and that when the film fizzles.
Ric Roman Waugh isn’t a director I’d heard of, so I had no expectations going into Snitch, but I’m left wondering if the guy wasn’t a little out of his depth here. Waugh’s direction lacks excitement, lacks tension, and just plain lacks energy. The script doesn’t allow for a lot of excitement a lot of the time, especially with the faux dramatic posturing from the cast as they wiggle into the positions they need to for the story to make sense. It’s like Waugh couldn’t find the real focus of the film – is it on Johnson’s character, or Bernthals? Is the key to the film the fact that Johnson’s son is locked in prison unjustly, or is it an excuse to get The Rock once again into a film with action in it? The script is key, and while it bubbles along with a rawness and reality I appreciated, its pacing is turgid and the characters largely unlikeable. Johnson aside, nobody in this film is really approachable from an empathy perspective. Waugh’s direction of the action sequences is strangely ineffective too, with the chop-socky editing style which has ruined many a decent film once more rearing its ugly head. I know sacrificing a wide-shot and a steadycam can make an action sequence feel more frenetic, but dude, we need to at least see what the hell is going on at some point. An ambush on an early drug run, and a final highway pursuit with gunfire and crashing vehicles, lack cinematic strength, as if this is merely a made-for-TV effort and the budget didn’t quite stretch for full-blown cinematography.
Snitch is passable as a film, if only for Johnson’s performance, which is commendable. As for the rest (including Benjamin Bratt’s chuckle-worthy drug kingpin character) you can probably skip it – the film lacks punch, drudges along with its ham-fisted attempts to anger the viewer with a miscarriage of justice, and ends up just kinda being, without doing. As an action film, it lacks action. As a dramatic piece, it’s not terribly deep, and as a crime film there’s a definite feel of “yeah, so what” about it all. Snitch is hardly a major misfire, but it comes with plenty of caveats for those willing to watch.
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