I have never been a fan of The Rock. I understand his appeal, mind you, but he’s never been a key force in my movie viewing life and I typically shy away from his films. I have yet to enjoy him in a comedic setting, I find the allure of professional wrestling to be baffling, and I have long taken the stand that I would not refer to The Rock as any other name until he proved that he could actually act. Well, the day has come, for while Snitch may not be anything to write home about, Mr. Dwayne The Rock Johnson gives what I would consider to be his finest (and perhaps first) example of real acting. Congratulations on your new title, Mr. Johnson. Please don’t beat me up. John Matthews (Johnson) is a hardworking construction company owner who has become estranged from his teenage son, Jason (Rafi Gavron). Jason gets caught up in a federal sting operation when he accepts a package of pills from a friend and since he has no knowledge to parlay, he finds himself facing 10 years in prison. Desperate to help his son, John convinces Daniel (Jon Bernthal), an ex-con who works in the construction yard, to put him in touch with a local drug dealer. Through this association, John is able to broker a deal with the district attorney to get his son’s release upon the arrest of a major player in the drug game. But while he proves proficient at his job, John winds up getting closer than he ever expected to the cartel’s leadership, a move that puts everyone in his family in great peril.
Snitch is the antithesis of the typical movie you would expect to find Johnson involved in. It has a slow pace, there is very little explosive action until the final sequence, and while the writing isn’t particularly special (more on this in a minute), the story is definitely the driving force behind the film as opposed to any other element you typically get in a Johnson movie. Somehow, however, Johnson finds a groove within the world of Snitch that I really don’t think he’s hit in the past. He isn’t trying to be humorous at all (always a plus in my opinion) but much more importantly, he’s actually playing a character. Johnson’s filmography is filled with examples of characters who are just The Rock in a different costume. The Rock as a cop, The Rock as a bodybuilder, The Rock as a hockey player turned fairy tale entity (*cringe*). In Snitch, however, I actually felt like I was seeing a real person on screen rather than another roided-out persona. John Matthews is a dad, a blue-collar worker, and most of all, a man, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that from Johnson before. Moreover, he’s a man who is severely out of his depth in a world he doesn’t understand or fit in and that comes through quite clearly. In short, there’s very little of The Rock being The Rock and beating the snot out of bad guys because he’s The Rock. And I quite like that change.
Now, much of the rest of Snitch is mediocre at best. As hard as the film works to push its story as the main course rather than a paltry side dish, it is weak and sometimes horribly heavy-handed. Most of the supporting characters are painted with some extremely tired colors and the actors who play them do little to shed those clichéd and exhausted skins. Sarandon in particularly comes across as bored and uninspired; she can’t have spent more than five days filming her part. The aforementioned slow pacing isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it was unexpected and I found myself checking the time and wishing things would gear up. In addition, too many of the important events happen in quick bursts when a sustained build would have suited the film much better. John’s family could have been developed rather than explained (a pet peeve of mine in a story-centric action film like this one is trying to be) and I could have used way more of Barry Pepper’s undercover cop. Note to Hollywood: Barry Pepper makes everything better (except Battlefield: Earth). Give this man some screentime already.
As it stands, Snitch is something like a half-finished project with some strong moments brought to life by Johnson that are surrounded by some incomplete thoughts that could have and should have been refined. Even still, it’s a fine performance by Johnson and that alone makes it worth a viewing, a sentence I never thought I’d have occasion to write.
Snitch Director: Ric Roman Waugh Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal Rated: PG-13 (violence, drug use, and surprisingly little profanity) Recommended For: Fans and Haters of The Rock Alike, ages 11+