Snitch isn’t just a pleasant surprise, it’s also the first get up and go see it movie of 2013.
The trailers may have you thinking it’s a standard action/crime thriller, but this is a much more intricate drama with only the occasional adrenaline-rush action elements.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (Fast 5) stars as John Matthews, the owner of a successful trucking company whose world is rocked when his teenage son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), is imprisoned after being set up in a drug deal. Jason refuses to set up any of his friends and faces a prison sentence of at least a decade. For what it’s worth, the story is loosely based on actual events.
Fearful for Jason’s safety, John strikes a deal with Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon, Cloud Atlas) — a district attorney with a harsh no tolerance stance on drug distribution — to go undercover to help bring down some real criminals and reduce Jason’s sentence. Barry Pepper (Broken City) has an excellent supporting role as Agent Cooper, head of Keeghan’s undercover unit, who is rightfully concerned if John is up to the task.
Complicating matters is John’s strained relationship with Jason’s mother, Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes), while providing for his loving wife, Analisa (Nadine Velazquez, Flight) and their daughter, Isabelle (Kyara Campos) as his actions to save Jason could jeopardize his family.
This is Johnson’s best performance to date largely because he escapes his cinematic comfort zone with a role that showcases his talents beyond a megawatt smile, rippling physique and dynamic charisma. It’s all the more impressive because this role isn’t a natural for him as it’s one where his 6’4” and about 265 pounds works against him in making John a regular, vulnerable guy so concerned about what will happen to his son that he’ll risk his own safety.
When a pack of drug dealers attack John, we’ve been so trained to expect our action heroes to overcome the odds that it’s shocking when they pummel him to the ground. It’s here that promising director/co-screenwriter Ric Roman Waugh shows that Snitch is more than a brainless shoot-first, shoot-later action film.
Waugh and co-screenwriter Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road) make you invest in the characters as they nicely build the tension and continually raise the stakes. The film’s rush doesn’t come from shootouts, but rather John’s ability to keep his cover.
Recognizing he’s in over his head, John partners with Daniel James (Jon Bernthal, The Walking Dead), a two-time loser looking to get his life back on track for his family. Daniel is an intriguingly complicated character as he wants no part of his old life and in Bernthal’s capable hands, we see the conflict he faces trying to do right while caring for his family.
Michael Kenneth Williams makes his small-scale drug captain Malik a fascinating character, who despite being sleaze, unexpectedly releases some of the tension with some well-timed humor. Benjamin Bratt has a supporting role as Keeghan’s ultimate prize – drug kingpin Juan Carlos ‘El Topo’ Pintera.
Waugh gets a little too experimental with some camera angles and tight perspectives that feel overly gimmicky for a story that just needed a tighter, more straight-forward storytelling style. That’s a minor complaint to an otherwise well-directed film.
Don’t be afraid to tell anyone Snitch is a must-see for drama/action fans.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Photo Credit: Steve Dietl/Summit Entertainment