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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Snitch

The Rock: Father, Husband, Drug Informant

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: February 22, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action, Drama
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Writers: Justin Haythe, Ric Roman Waugh
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, 
Jon Bernthal, Susan Sarandon, 
Michael K. Williams, Rafi Gavron, 
Melina Kanakaredes, Nadine Velazquez, 
Benjamin Bratt

"Snitch" is an action-drama with something to say. An unusual combination. It ends with a damning statistic: "The average sentence for a first time non-violent drug offender convicted under the federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws..." Pause for dramatic effect. " now longer than the average sentence for rape, child molestation, bank robbery and manslaughter."  The rest of the movie does everything it can to make its message as persuasive as possible. There is definitely an agenda being driven here, but it never feels heavy-handed. At its core, "Snitch" is still an entertaining spectacle with gang shootouts and "Spy Hunter"-style car chases – but it also features great actors tackling tough topics.

It begins with a dopey, naïve 18-year-old boy reluctantly agreeing to accept a suspicious package from his so-called friend. As soon as Jason Matthews (Rafi Gavron) opens the box, DEA agents swarm the house and arrest him for drug possession with intent to distribute. The charge carries with it a minimum ten-year sentence.

But the kid's father is played by The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), so you know heads are going to roll! John Matthews (Johnson) will do whatever it takes to free his son. He pleads his boy's case to a prominent district attorney, Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), who is staunchly against drugs and has her eye on a congressional seat.

John offers to go undercover and pose as a drug dealer in exchange for his son's release. He owns a truck company and can easily use his rigs to distribute "product." In reality, he'll be an informant – a "snitch" – to help Joanne bring down a major narcotics operation.

He just needs an introduction into that world. He turns to one of his employees with a criminal past: Daniel (Jon Bernthal) used to associate with a local dealer named Malik (Michael K. Williams), but he has put all of that behind him for the sake of his wife and son.

A DEA agent, Cooper (Barry Pepper), and a drug kingpin nicknamed "El Topo" (a lethal Benjamin Bratt), get involved along the way.

The acting is strong for the most part. The outspokenly liberal Sarandon portrays a Republican politician with a bitchy relish that's fun to watch. Pepper is almost unrecognizable in his role; it's hard to believe that this is the same actor who played a cocksure stockbroker in "25th Hour." It's a great performance. Bernthal is fantastic as a desperate ex-con who finds himself dragged back into his old life.

The Rock, on the other hand, portrays a regular husband, father, and business-owner. The problem is: he's not really any of those things. He's a former WWE Champion who became famous by being brash, over-the-top, and in your face. He doesn't excel when he's forced to play ordinary characters – because it's not really a natural fit for him. As a result, his line-delivery can sometimes come across as stilted and overly-rehearsed. However, he's wonderful expressing emotions and conveying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He knows how to make an audience root for him. His years as a pro wrestler taught him that skill, and he carries it with him to the silver screen.

The role of Jason, the son, is another weak spot. Rafi Gavron's performance is fine, but his character isn't given enough development to generate much sympathy from the audience. More often than not, I shook my head at the boy's stubborn stupidity. Actions that are meant to be "noble" come across instead as childishly rebellious.  

While the situation wasn't entirely his fault, all I kept thinking was, this spoiled dope fiend has ruined multiple lives with his irresponsible actions. Perhaps his character can return for a sequel that takes on another controversial topic – the pro-choice movement might work, because his existence is a pretty good argument for abortion.

Despite some faults, the message is still effective and the experience is entertaining. You know where it's going at all times, but the fun is in getting there.

Family is one of the film's central themes. John and Daniel are husbands and fathers who simply want to protect the people they love. Through them, "Snitch" examines the heavy toll the drug industry takes on families.

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