I was thoroughly impressed with Ric Roman Waugh’s ‘Snitch’, but for different reasons than you might expect. Inspired by true events, the film produces a sense of fear and hopelessness rather than the cheesy, light-hearted inspirational stories that we tend to see in these “Based on a True Story” movies. And Dwayne Johnson leaves his “The Rock” name at home to play a real human being who’s in over his head with some real bad guys. Not only that, Johnson proves that his acting ability is worth more than just a WWE Championship.
Prior to the flick, I thought and discussed with a friend what I expected to get out of this film, since the trailers portrayed it as an action vehicle for The Rock. What we received instead was a gripping story and suspenseful drama about a father, John Matthews (Johnson), who’s willing to do anything – and I mean anything – to stop to his son from serving a decade in federal prison under the mandatory sentencing laws for first-time drug offenders. What makes the movie so incredibly tense is how Matthews goes about getting involved with vicious gangs and even a Mexican cartel.
‘Snitch’ is taken from a news report that focuses on an actual law that provides a reduced prison sentence for convicts who provide information that leads to the arrest of other drug dealers and suppliers. Justin Haythe’s screenplay takes on the Constitutionality of this law, and dives deeply into the struggles of the characters and the tough decisions they make, rather than just showing a muscular guy offing bad guys, as we’ve seen so many times before.
Matthews’ son Jason (Rafi Gavron) is arrested by the DEA for, against his better judgment, accepting a package from the postal service full of Ecstasy as a favor for a friend. There’s enough Ecstasy in the package to make thousands and thousands of dollars. However, this was all a setup. As soon as Jason opens the box to see what’s in it, he’s arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison. Having never done anything like this before (he’d never even gotten a speeding ticket), Jason doesn’t know anyone in the drug game who he can rat out.
Matthews, a successful businessman who owns a shipping and cement company, phones a few friends who have connections to a U.S. Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), who seems to be willing to do anything to keep her political power. Keeghan slowly agrees to allow Matthews to help catch drug dealers in return for his son getting out of prison.
‘Snitch’ caught me off guard. I expected another run-of-the-mill action flick for The Rock. However, Johnson never delivers a punch nor a kick in the movie, and the first action sequence doesn’t take place until an hour into the film. I’ve always seen Johnson’s charm and wit in his prior performances, but he finally shows great range in his dramatic ability as an actor here.
The rest of the cast does a decent job, but most feel underused without enough screen time, except for Michael Kenneth Willams as a big-time criminal named Malik. Every time he’s off-screen, I found myself wanting him to be on screen more. He brings so much life and character to the role. Even though he plays a bad guy in the movie, you root for him, just like we did in ‘The Wire’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’.
Since director Waugh started as a stunt coordinator, the climactic vehicle chase is very well staged with some great cinematic moments. ‘Snitch’ was not what I expected, and is far better than I could have hoped based on the trailers.