Dwayne Johnson usually plays larger-than-life, powerhouse characters, full of wise retorts, rippling muscle and fixed stares. In Snitch, he attempts to tone down this full-frontal ‘The Rock’ assault a notch or three, going for serious drama in a fact-based story about drugs, their consequences and the somewhat harsh US laws.
Although veering into the absurd at times, Snitch is still a surprisingly solid watch from Felon writer-director and former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh that plays to Johnson’s strengths for those still wanting to see the actor triumph over adversity and dispel with some baddies.
As synopses go, first read suggests this film is way farfetched before viewing even begins; a father going undercover (and it even being authorised) for the DEA, in order to free his naïve teenage son who is in line for a lengthy prison term after being part of a drug deal. Actually, Johnson plays John Matthews, an influential businessman who uses his company’s haulage business resources to assist drug running between the US and Mexico so that he can help deliver one of the bigger fish as part of his son’s release. In this respect, believability is still intact, and Johnson instantly wins us over in his character’s attempts to take on Goliath. The action is a little more realistic with Johnson taking some blows rather than knocking seven bells out of several bodies at once with apparent ease.
That said the build up to the actual tense, nail-biting action is a tad drawn out as we are left in no doubt at Matthews’s family values. Indeed, those with teen kids will appreciate the film’s sentiments and question how they’d react. The rest of the story – once the gushy father-son stuff is laid on thick – relies on us being fully on Matthews’s side, however dubious some of his business dealings are. If there hadn’t been an element of truth to the tale too, the idea that the DA (played by Susan Sarandon) would allow such a compromise to happen is a little incredible too, and this still requires a leap of faith to keep the momentum going.
Johnson actually surprises all by delivering some of his finest and earnest work to date in this largely less physical part. In fact it’s a relief that he’s a bog standard businessman man and not some former government agent since retired. In this respect, you are kept guessing as to how things will pan out and whether this father can keep his nerve when faced with the big guns. There is also a healthy element of vulnerability to Johnson’s character that is also refreshing to see him portray. The start does play to each and every cliché in the book but Waugh nicely balances out action with a human emotion, resulting a stirring ride.
As Matthews gets in further over his head and the DA allows more daring stings to operate, things do get increasingly ridiculous, however much we want to see a pumped Johnson cause serious carnage. Plus you do wonder why no one seems to listen to Agent Cooper’s (well played by Barry Pepper) obvious doubts at using Matthews as a civilian pawn. Would the authorities really let this happen in reality? Indeed, why would a top drug kingpin (played by Benjamin Bratt) be so quick to trust Matthews? Surely just following his movements in a day would highlight how careless he is in his meetings with the DEA? These are just some of the implausible points that lessen plot credibility.
Nevertheless, the casting is well done and there is a nice character arc at play for Jon Bernthal as two-time criminal and family man Daniel on the way to his third strike out who is conned into helping Matthews by introducing him to his drug world connections. Sarandon’s on-off part could have been played by anyone but she at least lends another big-hitting name to the film.
Overall Snitch aims to entertain and yank a parental heartstring. It also shows everyone involved in the film in a good light, especially Johnson as comfortable in a less physically demanding part as well as opening up other possibilities for the actor. It’s just as events unfold, it lessens the effect (to make some think twice about drug dealing in the US in particular) and with things becoming a little incredulous, cultivates in a forehead-slapping ending that does raise the odd snigger. Still, Johnson is always an appealing presence on screen, whatever he is doing, especially when putting wrongs to right with gutsy determination.