daniel cohen smells what’s cookin’…
Plot: When John Matthews’ (Dwayne Johnson) son (Rafi Gavron) is arrested on charges of narcotics after being set up as a dealer, Matthews works with a local politician (Susan Sarandon) in order to bring down a major drug kingpin in exchange for his son’s freedom.
The biggest lesson to be learned from Snitch is that if you ever want to go undercover and bust some drug lords, do your research on Wikipedia. Seriously, Dwayne Johnson’s character reads Wikipedia articles on drug laws and drug busts. Wikipedia is a good tool, but it can’t solve everything. But enough rambling about Wikipedia, because I smell what the Rock is cooking, and it’s a good movie (sorry about that). Snitch isn’t the big blown action flick you would normally expect from Mr. Johnson. It’s a tense, suspenseful, and at times even character driven macho-flick. And unlike Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, or Jason Momoa, Johnson has the charisma to pull off scenes that don’t involve explosions.
Now I’m not saying Johnson is the next Daniel Day-Lewis, but he is more likable than some of the other action stars working in Hollywood today. He’s the only reason I sort of liked Fast Five. The film does a good job of making the protagonist John Matthews extremely likable, and someone you want to root for. As the President of a construction company, he’s tough, hard-nosed, but also the boss with a heart of gold as he has friendly chats with his lowly hard working employees.
This adds to the emotional weight of the story, because when his son Jason Collins (Matthews is divorced, and has a new family) gets arrested, you instantly feel for Matthews. So Jason, who’s 18, gets arrested after being peer pressured into accepting a delivery of drugs he was supposed to hold for his friend. The drugs were tracked, and Jason is immediately arrested as his douche-bag friend sells him out as a potential dealer for a lesser sentence. Jason is a good kid, and this is his first ever problem with the Police, yet he could face 10 years, or even more in prison. So the mom (Melina Kanakaredes) is of course a wreck, and it’s up to Matthews to figure out a way to reduce his son’s sentence, and this is where some of my problems with the film come into play.
Matthews visits the local DA who’s running for Office, Joanne Keeghan, played by the always wonderful Susan Sarandon. Matthews convinces Keeghan that if he can go undercover and take down an upper level drug lord, Jason’s sentence will be reduced to almost nothing. Okay…this is my problem. Matthews is just a guy who owns a construction company. There’s no mention of prior military training, no police records, or anything like that…he’s just a guy. Even though Keeghan warns him of the risks, I cannot believe some DA would just willy-nilly condone all this. It just doesn’t feel right. But I don’t know, it does happen in Police Academy 4: Citizen’s on Patrol, so there you go.
This bleeds into another criticism I have which is how this random dude with no training or previous undercover skills is able to survive being thrust head first into the world of the drug cartel. It’s almost as if the movie says, ‘Look. You know this guy is the Rock, so we don’t have to explain why he’s good at dodging bullets.’ Sure, we as an audience associate Johnson as a bad ass action star, but in the context of this film, he’s just a regular guy. You still have to give us a reason why he can survive all this crap, and it’s not just because he has muscles.
Now Matthews does get help with this from one of his new employees, Daniel James (Jon Bernthal). James had previous connections in the drug world, and reluctantly helps Matthews infiltrate a major drug dealer. And even though you like Matthews, and root for the character, what he does here is kind of a dick move. This poor guy is trying to get his life together, working hard to support his wife and kid, yet Matthews drags him back into the underbelly. Both actors have good chemistry though, and you desperately want to see things work out for both of them.
I mentioned Johnson, Sarandon, and Bernthal, but the acting all around was surprisingly solid. Michael K. Williams plays Malik, a big time drug dealer.He comes across as super evil right away, just with his glares and voice…a very engaging performance. Barry Pepper is also great as Agent Cooper, Matthews’ main point of contact, and Keeghan’s right hand man. Pepper does a good job of playing a man who’s conflicted with doing his duty, and wanting to protect Matthews from getting in to deep.
Now for a movie starring Dwayne Johnson, it surprisingly had some tough character moments. The first scene in which Matthews visits his son in prison is pretty heartbreaking. He shows up at the prison window a little beaten, and credit to Johnson who reacts pretty convincingly to this. I will say though that the hardships of Jason’s time in prison feel really forced later on in the film, and are cheap plot tricks to give the third act that ‘time is running out’ feel.
But the best part about this film is how it escalates. Keeghan’s initial deal with Matthews is dangerous enough, but Matthews has to progressively meet with more drug dealers then early anticipated. It’s like in Super Mario Brothers when Mario keeps going from castle to castle, but is repeatedly told that the Princess is another castle. It’s cruel, but the DA knows he has no choice, and will do whatever it takes to free his son. And that is where the great tension in this movie lies, as Matthews continues to get more in over his head.
You have to really suspend your disbelief with the premise of this film, but if you’re able to do that, you’ll get a heart pounding 110 minute romp with a solid leading character at the helm. But one warning I would heed is don’t expect big action set pieces, car chases, or big slug fests…it’s not that kind of film.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)