Film Review: Snitch

Father infiltrates drug cartel to rescue his son from prison in a thoughtful Dwayne Johnson vehicle.

Fans of Dwayne Johnson's action movies may feel a bit let down by Snitch. The Rock spends more time apologizing to his family than knocking villains around in a story that was loosely derived from a “Frontline” television documentary. But helped by a better-than-average cast, this trim B-movie makes good points about the inequities in mandatory drug-sentencing laws. The real question here is whether Summit Entertainment can persuade moviegoers that Snitch is more than a vigilante flick.

Johnson fits comfortably into his role as John Matthews, owner of a flourishing Missouri construction company. When Jason (Ravi Gavron), his son from his first marriage, is arrested by drug agents for possessing Ecstasy pills, Matthews and ex-wife Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes) are shocked to learn that he faces a mandatory ten-year sentence.
Prosecutor Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon, smooth and icy) offers to reduce the term if Jason will inform on his friends. He refuses, despite being brutalized in the pen. Matthews decides to go undercover himself to rescue his son.

Helped by employee and ex-con Daniel James (a steady and gripping Jon Bernthal), Matthews sets up a meeting with coke dealer Malik Anderson (Michael K. Williams). Claiming that his business is foundering, Matthews convinces Malik to let him transport drug shipments in his company's trucks.

Informed of his plan, a skeptical Keeghan assigns hard-bitten drug agent Cooper (Barry Pepper) to the case. His team wires Matthews and his truck before he drives to El Paso to pick up the shipment. There, Matthews and James barely escape an ambush by rival drug lord "El Topo" Pintera (Benjamin Bratt).

In the middle of an election campaign, Keeghan now sets her sights on El Topo, despite Cooper's worries that the businessman is in over his head. To protect his second wife Analisa (Nadine Velazquez) and their daughter Isabelle (Kyara Campos), Matthews pretends to go along with Keeghan.

How Matthews extricates himself from both feds and dealers could have made an exciting movie on its own, but director Ric Roman Waugh wants Snitch to be something more than just action. The film deals honestly with issues like peer pressure, prison rape, broken families, limited opportunities for ex-cons—to say nothing of the alarming statistics several characters deliver about mandatory sentencing.

Surprisingly, what Snitch doesn't do very well is the action itself, a real liability when it comes to Johnson's fans. A walking, talking special effect, the actor somehow manages to remain appealing in other films even while delivering bone-crushing blows. But he's not much of a dramatic actor, and can't convey the emotions and nuances this script requires.
Waugh took a real risk by aiming Snitch higher than typical B-movies. Most action films don't spend so much time on the human costs of illegal drugs. But the storytelling here is more blunt than stylish, with nondescript visuals, by-the-numbers editing and an overblown score. Snitch tackles a worthy subject, but still falls a little short.