Selling a 6'5", former wrestler dubbed "The Rock," as an "everyman" is no easy feat, yet writer/director Ric Roman Waugh's Snitch manages to organically knock Dwayne Johnson down a few notches. Johnson gracefully accepts the challenge, delivering his best performance to date as a dad grappling with a drug cartel in hopes of saving his son from imprisonment. The twist is that Johnson is anything but a superhero — he doesn't know how to work a gun, he can't drive a car at 300 mph, and he has no clue how to kick ass. What he does have is compassion for his family, and that's enough of a backbone to turn Snitchinto a better-than-average thriller.
After being caught at the center of an ecstasy-dealing sting operation, Jason (Rafi Gavron) is hauled away by the DEA and faced with 10 years in prison. His father, John (Johnson) begs a local politician (Susan Sarandon) for leniency, but he finds no luck: the only way around the mandatory minimum sentence laws in the U.S. is to "snitch" for the government, helping the feds find and capture bigger drug dealers. Since Jason isn't actually connected to the drug world, John proposes the next best thing: he'llgo hunting.
Waugh takes his time introducing us to the world of Snitch, carefully laying the tracks with research and character, so when the action picks up, it doesn't fly off the rails. Make no mistake: this is not a Faster sequel, a script giving Johnson the go-ahead to plow through faceless bad guys for two hours. There are stakes, and Waugh rips them from the headlines, the first third of Snitch feeling more like a newspaper exposé than an action movie. It all works to Johnson's favor, who settles in nicely in the imperfect suburban life and the dangerous underbelly he uncovers. With lots of whos, whats, and wheres to juggle, Snitchwinds up erring on the side of exposition too often, but it's all to add gravity to Johnson's insurmountable task.
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Snitch kicks into gear when John enlists his employee Daniel (Jon Bernthal) to break him into the world of drug smuggling. John makes Daniel, an ex-convict looking to stay out of trouble for the sake of his family, a deal he can't refuse, and the two embark on a mission to put ring leader Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams) in the crosshairs of the cops. With natural camera work and a welcome lack of ham (no "GIVE ME BACK MY SON!"s), Johnson and Bernthal capably build tension by fostering quiet moments that explode in their faces. Daniel routinely has to explain to his wife that he's out of trouble — a straight-up lie that ends in meltdown. In a scene early in the film, John heads to the wrong side of the tracks to dig up information, resulting in a gang of kids beating him to the round and stealing his car. Johnson as a low status character is a real shock in Snitch. When The Rock falls, he falls hard.
As teased in the trailer, Snitch does escalate, and the stuntman-turned-filmmaker Waugh competently stages his set pieces. It's a rarity: the shootouts and car chases in the movie feel like a backdrop for drama, not randomly placed moments of bombastic chaos. Snitch is high-octane in every department. The movie has rough edges — in an effort to complicate the situation, the movie steers away from the main plot to show a clash between Sarandon's morally-depraved politician and an undercover DEA agent (Barry Pepper, sporting a wild beard and another energetic performance). It's interesting, but not as captivating as Johnson's material, which builds momentum and remains gripping to the final moments. Snitch presents a terrifying scenario, worsened by the fact that it's really happened to guys a lot smaller than Dwayne Johnson.
What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
[Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment]
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This review previously appeared as part of Hollywood.com's coverage of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
After adorable but limiting roles in The Office I Love You Man Our Idiot Brother and her biggest part to date Parks and Recreation actress Rashida Jones nabs her meatiest part to date courtesy of her own script.
Celeste and Jesse Forever the brainchild of Jones and writing partner Will McCormick is a romantic comedy that feels perfectly comfortable treading into honest poignant relationship moments. It's obvious Jones co-wrote the movie every beat tailor made to draw out her best qualities. Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg) are longtime friends a perfect pair who eventually tie the knot and live happily for six years… until their relationship ends in divorce. But even with their impending separation the two can't help but remain best buds. Their friends are critical of the continued companionship but the pair work together to get back in the dating game. The journey forces the former couple to confront the truths and regrets both have harbored since first meeting.
Celeste and Jesse skips the big gags and sappy confessions in favor of grounding its characters in honest (and often uneasy) scenarios. Jones' and McCormick's script captures the kookiness ingrained in long lasting friendships from inside jokes (Celeste and Jesse routinely play a game where they perform sex acts with random objects) to the strange customs of Los Angelenos. Quirk isn't easy to pull off but director Lee Toland Krieger keeps the action intimate and restrained allowing Jones Samberg and the handful of exceptional supporting actors (including Erik Christian Olsen Ari Graynor Elijah Wood and Emma Roberts) to riff and joke without ever going broad.
If the movie was simply a string of hushed comedic sketches Celeste and Jesse Forever would fall into the familiar territory of meandering mumblecore but Jones and Samberg elevate the material with a surprising knack for the dramatic. In one of the film's more emotionally frank moments Jesse delvers a confession that solidifies the couple's dissipating relationship. The normally-goofball Samberg reels it back allowing quiet expression take the stage. The film may not land every intentionally heavy moment with perfect grace but watching two actors play against their established personas gives Celeste and Jesse extra (and exciting) punch.
Celeste and Jesse Forever is evidence Rashida Jones can deliver both behind and in front of the screen. In the right hands her talents can be mined to create a performance both daring and sweet. Celeste and Jesse suggests those "right hands" may be her own.
Based on Cornelia Funke’s best-selling children’s book Inkheart takes its literary inspirations literally. It revolves around a father Mortimer “Mo” Folchart (Brendan Fraser) and his 12-year-old daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) who share a gift -- or curse -- of being able to make characters leap out of the pages just by reading aloud. Unfortunately whenever they do this a real person must then be transferred into the book as a replacement. It can get complicated especially when Mo accidentally sends his wife (Sienna Guillory) into a book called Inkheart only to bring out its villains to wreak havoc on the real world. He spends the next nine years trying to find another copy of the book and bring her back while one of the book’s main characters Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) follows Mo trying to get back into the book. An adventure waiting to happen! The entire cast is wonderfully in tune with the whimsical tone of this inventive and clever story. Fraser doesn’t stretch any acting muscles but serves the film well as its central father figure and hero. Bettany (Master and Commander) as the literary sidekick Dustfinger steals the whole show giving his character heaping amounts of irony warmth and humanity. Joining them is Helen Mirren who adds an element of elegance and uptightness as the great aunt swept along for the ride. Andy Serkis (LOTR’s Gollum) is properly villainous throughout while Brit Jim Broadbent (Iris) is daffy and hilarious as the author of Inkheart who keeps complicating matters for everyone. Inkheart uses sheer imaginative filmmaking prowess with an engaging story that feels as original and fresh as it does familiar. Director Iain Softley (Wings of the Dove) makes the most of the colorful European locations including the picturesque Italian Riviera transformed into storybook heaven. The film is well-paced carrying a great subtle message about the powers of reading and creative writing. Much like the Oscar-nominated The Reader -- a wildly different kind of movie to be sure -- this film shows the joys of getting lost and in this case found in the world of books.
Breaking and Entering is sometimes contrived as films of this sort tend to be but is executed smoothly enough by screenwriter/director Anthony Minghella to succeed on some levels. Will (Jude Law) is an architect whose office in the seedier King’s Cross area of London is ransacked by thieves. He tracks one of them down and encounters Amira (Juliette Binoche) a Bosnian immigrant single mother with whom he becomes infatuated. Their illicit relationship ultimately has unforeseen consequences for all concerned including Will’s girlfriend (Robin Wright Penn) and Amira’s son Miro (Rafi Gavron). There aren’t many laughs but the film does try to offer an insight into what drives – and impedes – its characters’ emotional impulses Law is good Binoche is better than good and Wright Penn is better than usual. If there’s one element that elevates Breaking and Entering to a higher level it’s the performances. Vera Farmiga who played the only female role of any consequence in The Departed delivers a scene-stealing turn as a resilient Bosnian streetwalker while the always-welcome Ray Winstone turns up (all too briefly) as a canny cop. Given the success of Paul Haggis’ Crash and the films of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu it’s no surprise that other filmmakers are adopting the same attempting to cure (or at least address) various social issues by having disparate characters whose seemingly random interactions have consequences (both good and bad) for all concerned. Minghella an Oscar winner for The English Patient does have a knack for bringing out the best – or at least the good – in his actors even those in smaller roles. At least Breaking and Entering is more comfortably paced than Minghella’s last film the picturesque but lugubrious adaptation of Cold Mountain.