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Review: Snitch (2013)

Snitch (2013)

Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh

Premise: The owner of a construction company (Dwayne Johnson) goes undercover as part of a deal to release his son who is facing a decade in prison after a drug arrest. 

What Works: Snitch is a lean and well-made action picture. The movie starts with a compelling idea: that an otherwise law abiding citizen would risk himself, his family, and his business to get his son out of prison. This puts something at stake and the filmmakers cleverly increase the danger throughout the story as the son finds himself the victim of prison violence and the father gradually gets deeper into the drug underworld. This makes for a story that has more going on in it than the average action picture and the chases and shootouts have a subtext that makes them much more exciting. The action scenes of Snitch are well done and generally maintain a realistic dimension. This is very refreshing. So many action pictures go over the top with grandiose special effects and highly choreographed fight scenes, but Snitch is more modestly scaled and the filmmakers get more from less. The central relationship of Snitch occurs between the father, played by Dwayne Johnson, and his son, played by Rafi Gavron. Their interactions have a lot of authenticity and both actors bring a lot to the picture but the most interesting performances come from supporting players: Barry Pepper as a DEA agent and Jon Bernthal as an ex-convict. These men are the film’s voices of reason and experience and they realize the stakes of the situation. Pepper’s role is underwritten but he fills it out in the few scenes that he has. As the ex-con, Bernthal has the most complicated character of the entire movie. He is an employee of Johnson’s character and is recruited to give the father an introduction into the drug underworld. It becomes clear that Bernthal’s character has the most at risk, even more than the father and son, and his story is the most compelling aspect of the movie.

What Doesn’t: Snitch is steady when it plays for suspense and action but the picture gets wobbly when it goes for melodrama. There are a number of family dynamics at play here: Johnson’s character is divorced and he has obligations to both his ex-wife and son and his current wife and daughter. These scenes don’t play as well; the emotions are overstated and the movie gets soap opera-like. Part of the problem is the casting of Dwayne Johnson. Johnson is very good when he plays bullheaded and confident but less so playing vulnerable, which is what the role calls for. The former-wrestler-turned-actor is larger than life but his character would work better played by someone more human scaled. Snitch also has some problems with plausibility. The idea of sending a civilian into the drug world is a bad idea not only for the father and his family but also for the government. The antagonist of the movie is a prosecutor who is also running for congress and the movie makes it clear that her hardline approach to drug enforcement is politically motivated.  But the agreement she makes with Johnson’s character creates a liability that is not very smart and undermines the movie’s premise. Snitch is also problematic in its resolution. Involvement with organized crime is unending and the ultimate cost of this adventure for Johnson’s character and to his family ultimately outweighs just letting his son serve his prison sentence.

Bottom Line: Snitch is not a classic but it is a sturdy action picture. The movie has some problems with its premise but it is well made enough to merit a minor recommendation.

Episode: #430 (March 10, 2013)