It's easy to knock plenty of the choices The Rock/Dwayne Johnson has made over the course of his acting career when it comes to the films he's been associated with. Just saying THE TOOTH FAIRY should be enough to make you cringe. However, even with some of those questionable flicks on his resume, I'm always hopeful that the next one around the corner will finally be the one that figures out to maximize his talents. Having been a wrestling fan since forever, I've seen first-hand the charisma and personality Johnson has in getting an audience to invest in a character he's playing, whether a hero or a villain. He has the ability to hold a willing crowd in the palm of his hand and get them to follow him through anything. With a live crowd, in the ring, it's a different beast, but on-screen, with the right material, it is absolutely possible. He can't always be The Rock, but he doesn't have to be. What I saw all those years in his in-ring performance tells me that he can stray from being "The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment." SNITCH is the perfect example of his ability.
Playing John Matthews, a divorced dad who wasn't exactly the best father or husband for his old family, Johnson brings a great deal of compassion and determination to a blue-collar man getting a second chance at being there for his son when the kid is set up for a drug bust by his best friend and faces a steep mandatory miminum of 10 years in prison if he cooperates, 30 if he doesn't. It's not unreasonable to think that some of that "whatever it takes" mindset comes from his drive to be a professional wrestler, then a WWE Champion, then a Hollywood actor, overcoming obstacle after obstacle of people telling him what he can't do, and, if it did, Johnson harnesses it quite well, as Matthews exhibits those same qualities, not necessarily for personal gain, but for the benefit of his family.
It's a bit of a fucked-up system we see on display with the DEA and U.S. Attorneys trying to win the war on drugs by prosecuting anyone they can. When the 18-year-old Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron) signs for a package he already knows contains about $7,000 worth of Ecstacy, he's setting himself for a world of shit. But the worst part about it is that he already told his best friend not to send them his way, that he wanted no part of it. His friend sets him up in order to get a reduced sentence, and the Attorney is willing to lessen his sentence if he can help them make arrests on other drug dealers. What do you do when you don't know any though? What do you do when you are the end of the line of low-level players who aren't really in the game to begin with? Well, it seems the only option for Jason is to set up one of his innocent friends to be arrested, lining them up to accept a package of narcotics, setting off a chain reaction of events of non-drug dealers being incarcerated in order to give off the perception that something is being done by law enforcement while the actual drug dealers remain on the streets. See... I told you it was fucked-up.
With Jason lacking any wiggle room to help himself, his dad takes on the responsibility of cutting a deal for him - he'll help the U.S. Attorney (played by Susan Sarandon) and the DEA (fronted by an oddly goateed Barry Pepper) score an arrest to get his son out of harm's way. He was always on the road as a trucker back in the day, trying to earn money to support his family, and, in doing that and trying to build his own business, those relationships crumbled. His marriage fell apart. His son doesn't even live with his last name anymore. This is his chance for a little redemption - to be the father that Jason always needed. That's a big part of SNITCH, going even beyond the obvious drug element of the story. The film is about family, and the strong bonds of the father-son relationship. My son is only three years old, but I can't imagine not doing everything in my power to help him out in the event that he found himself in a tight jam. But to take that a step further, my job is as a father is also to set an example, to teach my son how to become a man. That means instilling in him the values that will lead to him not growing up to be an asshole or a serial killer or a drug dealer. You teach right from wrong... You teach kindness... You teach them what it means to ultimately be a good person, not to make the same mistakes you may have made along the way. Between Johnson trying to do the right thing for his kid or Jon Bernthal as Matthews' ex-con partner on this endeavor trying to get his life in order for his own son and wife, SNITCH is able to get you invested in these situations of fathers making the hard choices to help out their sons.
That's where Ric Roman Waugh has made a solid film, armed with a script he co-wrote with Justin Haythe. You have a pretty good idea how this might turn out, but Waugh is able to get you caring about these characters and caring about their predicament. Johnson brings a subtlety to the role that we haven't much seen from his more alpha male characters. This one is much more understated, and Johnson does a fantastic job in balancing the concern he has for his son with his strong will to fix this problem through whatever means he can, even if that means putting his own life in danger. That's what it means to do anything for your kids. Bernthal is a nice wrinkle, reluctantly pulled into the middle as he's trying to stay away from that life he left behind for his family's benefit. He brings a similar complexity to Daniel James that we saw on a weekly basis with his Shane in THE WALKING DEAD, a man constantly torn between doing what he thinks is right and what he thinks is necessary. And in delivering two strong characters to help move this story forward, Waugh is able to establish with fine precision the rules of SNITCH, namely the consequences that come with the choices one might make, and, as a result, what we get are stakes that really do matter. A far less skilled filmmaker would have given into the pressure of throwing in unnecessary action beats - adding car chases or gunfights - when things might slow in order to keep things interesting, but Waugh is perfectly happy with a slow build, in order to make those sequences count for something when they do show up organically. In a lot of cases, less means more, and SNITCH exemplifies such an idea. And, of course, I'd be remiss not to mention Michael K. Williams (best known for THE WIRE) scene-stealing contribution as the drug dealer Malik, who serves as Johnson's gateway into this world of narcotics as a means to an end.
I was really rather surprised by how solid SNITCH turned out. This is a simple movie that really delivers on the journey even as you get a feel for where you'll end up at the destination. It's a bit of a slow burn at times, but that's because Waugh has his eye on the prize knowing that it's more important to get you invested in what's going to happen before he takes it up a notch, as opposed to just giving you explosions and meaningless spectacle that would serve to undercut the emotion of the film. Waugh understands that you need to care about the story first, and, with the help of a game Johnson and Bernthal, is able to drive that home. I have no problem ratting out to you that SNITCH is definitely a worthwhile trip to the movies.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
Follow me on Twitter.
Like me on Facebook.