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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I attended a screening of Relativity Media and Bandito Brothers action adventure Act of Valor a couple weeks ago in the movie theater on the Intrepid aircraft carrier in the harbour in Manhattan thanks to a invite from one of the executive producers. Obviously this was the perfect venue to see a film that stars real active duty Navy SEALs. Act of Valor is a powerful and uniquely authentic action film -- real Navy Seals play most of the key parts using real ammo (first time this has been done in the last 100 years in Hollywood) with real military weaponry and equipment. Even the aviators who were involved in the film as well as the personnel in submarines are all real military members and you literally feel the realism.
No need for special effects in Act of Valor when the reality is much better; the action sequences will have you pushing back in your seat like being in the front row of a awesome roller coaster ride. The best scene in the film - when the Seals ascend onto a moving ocean-going yacht and interrogate a drug dealer-terrorist makes you feel like you’re in the scene watching from two feet away -- amazing filmmaking with great intensity enhanced by the fact that the interrogator is an actual SEALs operative.
If you like action films you’ll love Act of Valor because it breaks new ground in filmmaking by virtue of its use of non-actors in key roles. Some critics may say the dramatic scenes lack emotion because more professional actors were not used but this is just not the case. This is the real deal and as such adds an emotional depth and intensity that is impossible to fake on the big screen.
Just ask anyone who attended the special screening on the Intrepid. At the conclusion of the film there was a long standing ovation and then the audience heard from many of the SEALs in person explaining why they participated and acted in the film. These guys are true American heroes and you’ll love watching them in action in Act of Valor a valiant story of mission commitment combat weaponry and most importantly valor and brotherhood. While most movies star actors who merely portray heroes on screen Act of Valor stars actual heroes showing how they lay it on the line for the freedoms that we as civilians enjoy every day. You’re going to enjoy the ride.