Film review: The Rock struggles in drug drama 'Snitch'
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Jon Bernthal
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
The poster for Snitch makes it look like another butt-kicking, fist-pounding action flick for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but, surprisingly, the film turns out to be a serious and down-to-earth thriller with a subdued Johnson playing it completely straight.
He is John Matthews, a truck company owner and a father desperate to save his son (Rafi Gavron) from a long prison term after the teenager unwittingly becomes a drug stooge. An unsavoury friend had sent the teen an illicit package and, after being busted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), he faces serious prison time unless he can reveal his source. But the boy has no dealer to rat on because the "friend" fingered him as the mastermind.
Despite seeing very few exits for his son, who is treated as a punching bag in jail, Matthews promises the boy: "I'll get you out of here." Slightly coerced by an ambitious attorney general (Susan Sarandon), he parlays a way to go undercover and lure out a local dealer in exchange for his son's freedom, but ends up in a much deeper and more dangerous place than he ever expected. Overfilling the normal-sized role of an ordinary man, Johnson is trying hard to be vulnerable - a difficult task when you're the biggest dude in every scene.
Don't see Snitch if you're eager for a muscular throwdown or adrenalin rush because they don't arrive until the last few minutes. By The Rock's own standards, it's relatively tame. He doesn't even smirk or do his signature eyebrow-raising once.
The opening act, with the son's unjust incarceration and critique of US legal statutes and drug enforcement tactics, resembles a lesser version of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (2000).
Johnson is in over his head with the drama, as he has neither the range nor ability to believably convey exasperation and frustration. Whether he is dealing with a domestic dilemma or corrupt courts, he has the same perplexed expression.
It is Jon Bernthal, best known for playing Shane in The Walking Dead, who makes an impact. As a reformed convict trying to go straight but who ends up drawn into the sting operation, he is complex and compelling to watch. Johnson and Bernthal should have switched roles.
At this point, Snitch is like a glammed-down Miami Vice, as Johnson and Bernthal are forced to team up and transport for a scary drug cartel boss. It's admirable how the film stays sober for as long as it does, although eventually it succumbs to the need for a thrilling street chase.
At one stage, the discourse on drug enforcement policy is sidetracked by the family man single-handedly taking down a criminal. It would have been more heroic if it were an ordinary person rising to such brave heights.
Snitch opens on May 9