Review: Dwayne Johnson in 'Snitch' is Dull End to 2013's Early Action
by Jeremy Kirk
February 22, 2013
The year 2013 has been front-loaded with action. Four of The Expendables had films open. The Gangster Squad had fun with their Tommy Guns, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters blew the hell out of gigantic monsters, and Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty continue to blast away until the Oscars. But it's Dwayne Johnson, action superstar of 2013, with at four action films in four months (starting now), who brings 2013's opening to a close. Unfortunately, his movie is Snitch, a low-fuel, gear-grinding thriller that never begins to edge the excitement forward or twist the tension. It's a pretty blah way to kick-off spring.
Inspired by true events, Snitch has Johnson front and center as John Matthews, owner of a shipping company who is estranged from his first family, particularly his teenage son, Jason (Rafi Gavron). Jason's world gets a little rockier one day when he signs for a UPS package from a friend, a package containing a bag full of ecstasy pills, and the DEA promptly busts in following the tracker they left in it. With the mandatory minimum laws - a term you're going to be very aware of after seeing this movie - Jason is facing at least 10 years in hard prison. What's more, the boy won't snitch on or set up any other drug-dealing accomplices or friend he might have, a tactic the DEA has incorporated to help crack down on drug crimes.
That's where John comes in. Estranged or not, John loves his son and can't stand to see him in the impossible time he has ahead of himself in prison. John takes the boy's snitching/setting up duties upon himself. Soon, with a little help from a U.S. attorney (Susan Sarandon), the semi trucks he has on hand, and connections he makes from a former drug dealer (Jon Bernthal) now working legitimately for him, John Matthews takes to the road, helping a local dealer make big connections with the cartels from Mexico. Things can only go wrong from here.
Ric Roman Waugh directs Snitch from his own screenplay, also credited to Revolutionary Road's screenwriter Justin Haythe. Waugh has a long history doing stunt work for such action greats as They Live, Road House, Total Recall, and The Crow just to spout out a few. Snitch isn't the stunt workers first foray into directing, but his inability to hold a shot still or craft a decent composition around what he has to work with would suggest he has a long way to go. It isn't that Snitch just suffers from shaky-cam. God knows that it has that, but there's an erratic behavior to the frame, as if the operator isn't quite sure what to shoot or what might be driving the story forward. When the action finally kicks in here, that's when you can blame it for shaky-cam. Up until then, it just seems like bad handling.
It isn't as if the story works in Snitch's overall favor, either. The drama piles on between John and his two families, his new wife (Nadine Velazques proving she's much more than just Ruxin's wife on "The League"), eventually finding out what he's doing and begging him to stop. Most of these more dramatic moments work in large part thanks to the performances, Waugh's direction or editing never doing the pacing any favors. Snitch is bulky with drama, and as light on action as it is, the scales tend to tip over into boredom more often than not.
The action does eventually come into play, John's endeavors into the world of drug-running wrought with violence. Again, the performances help, Bernthal and "The Wire's" Michael Kenneth Williams showing top-notch acting chops. Bernthal's bouncy head form of drama hasn't gotten old, yet, and Williams playing Omar is still Williams playing Omar, enjoyable through and through. But, again, these performances are constantly doing battle with how dull the rest of Snitch is. The action comes and goes in small waves, and the film's near-two-hour running time should have delivered more. A few impressive stunts with vehicles pop up near the end, a given considering the director's previous work. It's just too bad you can barely see it.
Noticeably trying to ratchet up the intensity is Johnson, walking just like he does to the ring, throwing that glare left and right like only he can. It works. He's The Rock, for God's sake, and no amount of erratic bouncing of the camera around his face will jostle that fact loose. There's a built-in charisma to every character he fills. He doesn't have to raise the eyebrow any longer to know you just pissed him off, and when he smiles, like all the most charming actors, it's genuine. Even he seems to catch on to Snitch's overall drabness late in the game, when his role is resorted to sitting behind the wheel of a semi truck.
And up and down Snitch goes, a film that has as much good in it as it does bad, a thriller more interested in being a drama with a little action sprinkled in. Johnson is arguably the biggest action star these days, and the marketing for this film would suggest it's another in a long line of kick-ass explosions of entertainment. It's not. Snitch wants to be seen as a serious drama. It's just too bad the director couldn't handle the material on or off the road. Also, Barry Pepper's beard, just because I couldn't work it in anywhere else.
Jeremy's Rating: 5 out of 10