The surprisingly deep Snitch features The Rock's best performance as...not The Rock.
Ready for a shocker? Dwayne Johnson is really good in Snitch, a powerful film about life in the drug trade. I know, it's Johnson (aka WWE's The Rock), but hear me out on this one.
Johnson (Fast Five) plays John Matthews, owner of a successful construction company, whose estranged son Jason (Rafi Gavron) is arrested after accepting a package filled with drugs. He's the victim of an undercover operation, hoping to nail small-time dealers who will in turn cough up other names for arrest. But Jason is neither willing to cooperate, nor turn in his drug-dealing friends, not because he's a hardened dealer, but because his morals won't allow him to do so. Matthews and his ex-wife Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes) don't understand his defiance, but are more worried about his safety in prison, which forces Matthews into action. He uses his business connections to schedule a meeting with DA Joanne Kheegan (Susan Sarandon, Arbitrage), who initially refuses to help; undeterred, he concocts a brilliant plan to go undercover for Kheegan in exchange for Jason's release. Soon, Matthews is thrust into the center of a world he's never seen, filled with gun violence and the shadowy drug cartel leader Pintera (Benjamin Bratt), whose loyalty to local distributor Malik (Michael K. Williams) is only as strong as the drugs Malik can move through his little empire. Caught between saving his son, protecting his ex-con employee (John Berthnal) who set up the meeting with Malik, and the DA's growing pressure for an arrest, Matthews must take control to clear the table no matter the cost.
Snitch is an engrossing film, wrapping the viewer in a spiraling web of lies and broken promises that whirl and churn like a tornado of decit. The moment a deal is struck between Matthews and Kheegan, an event close to home results in a hastily-contrived addendum that forces Matthews deeper down the rabbit hole. The more he tries to help his son, the more desperate and deadly the situation becomes; and Johnson plays it masterfully. There were so many opportunities when The Rock could have exploded onto the screen to dispense with quick WWE justice, but former stunt-man-turned Director/Writer Ric Roman Waugh and Co-writer Justin Haythe (The Clearing) don't take the bait, keeping Johnson afraid of violence, uneducated about the darker world of the drug trade, and unskilled in dealing with the devious characters which infest it. As one deal is torn up for another, you can see it reflected on Matthew's face - he's clearly outmatched here, and the result sends Johnson into a new dramatic direction. To those who've followed his career, he will always be The Rock and the muscular Hobbs in Fast Five, but now he's Dwayne Johnson The Dramatic Actor.
Credit the deep and talented cast including Sarandon, Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan), and the equally-impressive Berthnal and Williams. Each actor excels in trying to screw the other so often that the audience can actually feel the noose tightening around Matthews, making us wonder who, if anyone, will finally be there to support him. Under the radar for so long, Pepper has suddenly appeared in two impressive outings, including Broken City, and his portrayal here is grayed to the point that we can't quite tell if he's good or not. Again, credit Waugh and Haythe for clouding our characters - which in turn ups that tension - then releasing just enough of it at points to keep us from going crazy. And while the story takes time to grow, it's all part of their plan to wrap us totally in Matthews' story.
I've been following Image Nation Abu Dahbi since my review for Richard Gere's The Double back in 2011; they've certainly come a long way, even though the former stunt-man Waugh isn't quite Steven Spielberg. Whether Image Nation can be the next Dreamworks is anyone's guess; but, for now Snitch is a great Winter film that joins other surprises Broken City and Gangster Squad. These will disappear once Spring gets underway, but that doesn't mean you should ignore them. Like 2011's Contraband or Safe House, Snitch is powerful and demands your attention; be ready for it, and I'm sure you won't be disappointed. It's rated a surprisingly rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and violence, has a runtime of 112 minutes, and comes highly recommended.
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