Wrestler turned action movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson must be going for the record for movies made in a short period of time. Case in point, in 2013 alone he’s appeared in 5 different films. One of those is “Snitch”, a surprisingly competent crime thriller that takes a pretty simple story and soaks it with more tension and high stakes than you would ever expect. It’s also not afraid to throw a few jabs at America’s federal drug policy.
“Snitch” is one of those ‘inspired by a true story’ flicks which makes its borderline absurdity all the more digestible. Johnson certainly isn’t the most seasoned of actors but he does a nice job playing John Matthews, the owner of a small construction company who one day gets a call from his ex-wife that his son Jason (Rafi Gavron) has been arrested on federal drug charges. Knowing his son isn’t a drug trafficker, John seeks help from a federal attorney named Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) whose upcoming reelection has her looking for some good press. She’s also the only one who can reduce Jason’s sentence.
But Joanne isn’t all that interested in helping so John takes it upon himself to secretly find and snitch on some drug dealersin exchange for his son’s freedom. Jon Bernthal, perhaps best known for his role on the popular cable series “The Walking Dead”, plays an ex-con employee of John’s who may have the needed underworld connections. We also get Barry Pepper, an actor I’ve always liked, as an undercover DEA agent named Cooper. And another actor I like, Benjamin Bratt, finds his way back to the big screen playing a cartel boss and big time drug runner. John quickly finds himself in over his head and becomes a pawn of both the government and the cartel.
The Rock certainly has the build of a super tough guy and at times he looks like he could body slam whoever he’s talking to. But I liked that the movie never falls into that trap. His character is just a construction guy. No secret hitman or military special forces past. He’s just a regular guy and the story stays away from the whole ‘one man army’ thing. For me that worked very well and offered a much more interesting dynamic. Again, at times Johnson does show his limitations as an actor but it’s a performance that definitely works. And obviously he’s helped by the really nice supporting cast around him.
The movie is filled with moral quandaries, questionable ethics, and mixed messages. Much of that works to the film’s advantage. Everything isn’t all nice and tidy and it shouldn’t be. Yet while all of this works nicely there’s still little that sets the film apart. It certainly dabbles in several new and intriguing areas but its hard for me to get excited about seeing it again. And ultimately that’s where I stand on “Snitch” – a surprisingly slick and intense thriller but one with very little staying power. But still, compared to a number of movies pumped out this year, it’s an entertaining film that stays within its bounds of limitations.