Sitting through “Snitch” is much like walking through a museum or a time machine. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson reprises his role as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson from seemingly every film he’s ever starred in. This time, however, instead of a fresh round of butt-kicking and name-taking, director Ric Roman Waugh (“Felon”) decides to add some interesting design concepts and character development to create what is actually a pretty entertaining movie.
The story begins with one Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron) being arrested and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. The writers go to great lengths to show that Jason is a trustworthy and kind boy. Although I’ll admit that it’s a bit played-out, the high class ideals Jason holds as a minor character are refreshing to witness throughout the movie. “Snitch” then reveals its very own adonis action hero, John Matthews (Johnson), who, after divorcing his first wife, is remarried with a second child. John works in construction and lives a quiet suburban life, but Jason’s arrest awakens a driving need to clear his first child’s name at all costs.
Thus begins the typical fatherhood dilemma frequently found in contemporary scripts. The protagonist is set up to make a tough ethical decision and ultimately seek a gray area that will please both sides of the conflict and accomplish his goals. The concept seems contrived and, at times, a little annoying, but it would be wrong to say this break from the more drawn-out plights seen in recent movies isn’t stimulating.
John finds a way to get his son out of jail, or at the very least reduce the sentence, by becoming an informant for Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), a tough-nosed prosecutor with political aspirations. Keeghan needs his aid in an operation to bust a prominent drug ring in dreary Southern Texas. At times this seems like a poor, though obvious, choice for the story; it is highly reminiscent of Johnson’s previous films, while failing to set the stage for a high-flying amount of action.
As Matthews chooses to walk the line between saving his son and endangering his new family, he reaches out to another major player. Daniel James (John Bernthal) is a married man who strives to find a happy medium by staying clean for his wife and young son, while making enough money to steer clear of his former drug connections; he serves as a dynamic man full of both shortcomings and strengths. Matthews is initially denied after asking for James’ assistance, given the fact that the other man has no desire to risk being arrested and taken away from his family again. But the writers cannot resist adding a very human element to the story, and as James realizes the extent of his family’s struggles he eventually agrees to introduce Matthews to the lower levels of gang society.
What moviegoers may find surprising is that Matthews does not immediately kick and punch his way through the men he plans to turn over to Keeghan. Instead he brilliantly portrays a family man who has never really touched a gun before and exhibits a fear of them throughout the film. He deals with the thugs delicately, as the younger frontmen of the operation force both him and James to prove their worth to the crime lords. The ensuing scenes are filled with violence and gripping controversy, which serves to stir the audience after a dreary backdrop of introductions.
After our hero has gained the trust of the crime lords, however, the movie takes a bit of a paradoxical turn. The scenes become tiring and fail to separate themselves from other action blockbusters, or frankly any films that deal with drugs and violence. Still, the intimate moments that reveal the humanity and trust between central characters act as a saving grace. This especially goes for Matthews and James’ awkward friendship in the film’s waning act.
“Snitch” is not at all intellectual or riveting, but it is a gratifying break from grimly ambitious films like “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty” that have lately been filling theaters.
Rating: 3 stars