Four Surprising Things About Snitch

by admin February 22, 2013 6:00 am
Four Surprising Things About Snitch

Given that it's being dumped into theaters at the tail end of February right before Oscar night, one would expect for Snitch to be yet another disposable Dwayne Johnson action programmer where the content is as generic as the one-word title -- think Faster and Doom. But in this case, looks are somewhat deceiving, as the film turns out to be one of Johnson's stronger star vehicles, one deserving of a better box office fate that awaits it this weekend. If you do decide to drop a dime on Snitch either now or, more likely, on cable a few months from now, here are four things about the movie that will surprise you.

It's More of a Drama than an Action Picture
Snitch's trailers show off lots of gunplay and crashing vehicles, which certainly is present in the movie -- albeit almost exclusively in the final (and least compelling) twenty minutes. The bulk of the story is far more interested in the dramatic implications of the movie's premise, which finds Johnson playing John Matthews, the successful owner of a trucking company whose college-bound son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), makes the disastrous decision of accepting a buddy's express-delivered box that turns out to contain 10 pounds of illegal substances. Thanks to the federally enforced drug laws, those 10 pounds will add up to a 10-year prison sentence for poor Jason, who is reluctant to reduce his sentence by pulling the same stunt on another friend. So John decides to intervene on the kid's behalf, offering himself up to the ambitious prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) as a deep cover informant. A bit of a stretch? Sure, but one that's semi-plausibly derived from a real consequence of the current drug laws, whereby first-time offenders can find themselves faced with the equally dangerous choice of jail time or going undercover. Co-writer/director Ric Roman Waugh similarly extrapolated a legal loophole into an otherwise fictionalized crime drama with his underrated 2008 film Felon, starring Stephen Dorff and Val Kilmer. Both movies effectively maneuver the central characters into an impossible situation and keep the audience firmly invested in their fates. They also make the same commitment to treating the heroes as ordinary guys, not supermen... at least until the final act.

The Rock Actually Acts
Although I've been burned plenty of times before (Tooth Fairy springs immediately to mind), I can't help rooting for Johnson every time I see his enormous head on a movie poster. In the decade since he left the WWE ring for movie stardom, he's developed into an extremely personable screen presence, which frequently helps make up for A) His preternaturally poor choice of material and B) His limited range. Snitch is something of an unexpected move for him in that it requires that he give up the two qualities he generally depends on for his movie roles: namely, the confidence and command that comes with his Hulk-sized proportions. Waugh doesn't try to diminish Johnson's bulk, but he does restrict his star from displaying any outsized feats of strength. In one scene, for example, John is beaten to a pulp by a gang of curbside drug dealers; a more traditional Rockian vehicle would allow him to bring the pain, but Snitch requires him to just lie down and absorb it. Unable to fall back on his default strongman setting, Johnson is more human than we've seen him before. (Although Waugh probably should have left John's requisite breakdown scene on the cutting room floor; Johnson's shows off some serious dramatic skills here, but he's an unfortunately ugly crier.)

Able Support is Proved by Omar From The Wire and Shane From The Walking Dead
One of these days, someone will write a role for Michael K. Williams that's nothing like the thug he so memorably portrayed on that late, great HBO series. The problem is, of course, that he plays these kinds of roles so damn well. Snitch, for example, benefits enormously from Williams's quietly menacing portrayal of aspiring drug kingpin Malik, whose operation John chooses to embed himself within. (Even if Johnson was in full badass mode, Williams would still be the most intimidating dude in the room.) Meanwhile, The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal ably transitions from being zombie food to back-up for Sheriff Rock as Daniel, the ex-con and family man who hooks John up with Malik, only to unexpectedly find himself riding shotgun on a big drug delivery. Also, a bonus shout-out goes to Barry Pepper, who is done up all Sons of Anarchy-style as the narcotics agent supervising John's sting operation. Scene for scene, these actors consistently elevate the material they've been given and manage to do so without upstaging Johnson.

The Movie Is Better Than You'd Expect... Until It Isn't
After firmly steering this unlikely vehicle through two solid acts, Waugh loses control of the wheel as Snitch approaches the finish line, falling back on dull action movie theatrics that pit John against a Mexican drug cartel leader (Benjamin Bratt). (The same problem befell Felon as well -- apparently, the guy needs to hire another writer to rewrite all of his third acts.) Besides putting the kibosh on the movie's heretofore semi-convincing air of plausibility, this storyline also transforms John into the kind of character he isn't supposed to be: the one-step-ahead-of-everyone-else hero. (It doesn't help that Waugh then proceeds to rush through the movie's resolution, casually dropping a major bombshell about the consequences of John's actions just before the closing credits.) It's a shame to see Snitch careen so thoroughly off course when all the elements are there for a far more satisfying -- if not exactly original -- conclusion. At least the movie had the courtesy to save its least pleasant surprise for last.

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