- Rated PG-13
All photos © Summit Entertainment
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ilms like “Snitch” are meant to infuriate you about the supposed injustice of the United States legal system, but instead, it fails to generate any emotional response apart from boredom. A social issue movie disguised as a paint-by-numbers crime thriller, “Snitch” is reportedly based on a true story documented in a 1999 episode of the PBS TV series “Frontline,” but the events have been so embellished that you’d have a hard time believing any of it actually happened. Of course, a quick Google search tells us that it did, but certainly not in the way that stuntman turned director Ric Roman Waugh’s film would lead you to believe, and that feels like more of an injustice than anything from the story.
Dwayne Johnson stars as John Matthews, the owner of a small but successful construction company whose estranged 18-year-old son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), has just been arrested for intent to distribute after he agrees to have a package filled with Ecstasy delivered to him as a favor to his friend. Slapped with the mandatory minimum 10-year sentence for first-time offenders, he’s offered the chance to reduce his jail time by snitching on someone higher up the food chain. But Jason doesn’t have any actual connections to that world, so John turns to U.S. Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) with a different proposition: he’ll go undercover and set up a local drug dealer (Michael K. Williams) in exchange for his son’s freedom. John quickly gets in over his head, however, when he learns that he’s actually working for a high-level Mexican cartel boss (Benjamin Bratt).
Despite its true story origins, “Snitch” doesn’t play out any differently than most generic crime thrillers, and that’s because Waugh and co-writer Justin Haythe have distorted the facts to the point that barely any details from the original news story remain. It’s meant to inject some excitement into the material, but the addition of the cartel subplot and an action-heavy finale only makes it seem even more preposterous. The movie is almost pure fantasy at that point, because there’s no way someone like John would be capable of outsmarting drug dealers or DEA agents, and the script is mostly to blame. When it’s not weighed down by overwrought drama, it's littered with clichéd dialogue.
Dwayne Johnson delivers a surprisingly subtle performance in the lead role, proving that he’s more than muscles and charm, but it doesn’t give him a whole lot to chew on. The rest of the characters are just as paper-thin, perhaps with the exception of Jon Bernthal’s conflicted ex-con, who provides John an introduction into the drug world. In fact, Barry Pepper’s scraggly and grotesque goatee – which looks like something you’d find clogging a drain pipe – is probably the most interesting thing about the film, and that tells you all you need to know about “Snitch.” There have been worse movies this year, but none that are so miserably tedious that an actor’s facial hair steals the show.