The marketing and trailers for this film are somewhat misleading. In those brief previews of SNITCH, we’re given quick shots of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (FAST FIVE) staring down drug dealers, crashing freight trucks into other vehicles and firing shotgun blasts out of car windows. They’re selling this film as the kind of adrenaline-fueled action romp we’ve come to expect from the former WWE wrestling superstar-turned actor, but in actuality, it’s a quieter film with a smaller and more realistic scope. And honestly, that’s a pleasant surprise.
SNITCH plays more as “crime drama” rather than “crime thriller.” It’s the story of a successful construction company owner named John Matthews (played by Johnson) who soon discovers his estranged son Jason, played by Rafi Gavron (NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST), is facing a 10-year jail sentence for inadvertently accepting a package of Ecstasy in a sting operation and being charged for distribution. In order to get the charges against his son dropped, Matthews takes it upon himself to become an informant and try to deliver the leaders of a notorious drug cartel to the authorities. He is able to convince the criminal element that his freight trucks would be ideal for transportation of their product and is soon caught in a dangerous game of deception and bluffing that puts himself and his family at risk.
The scenario sounds like it would be the perfect breeding ground for over-the-top action that we’ve come to expect from Dwayne Johnson-starring vehicles. Indeed, it does have its fair share of violence and spectacle and Dwayne gets his shots in to be a bad-ass, but SNITCH takes a daring gamble in making John Matthews not only a regular “9 to 5”-kinda guy but also a relatable lead with some heavy drama to work through. With action leads, I’ve always found that no matter how likable or entertaining they are, there are just some personas you’re always aware of in the viewing. Schwarzenegger is always Schwarzenegger to me regardless of what his character’s name is. And that’s fine for the most part. Guys like Arnold, Stallone and Willis are still entertaining and bad-ass, the godfathers of break-neck, testosterone-filled action fantasies. In SNITCH, I was able to forget the “Rock”-side of Johnson’s persona and all of the cheesy thriller/dopey kids’ comedies he has been attached to in the past.
Dwayne Johnson handles the quieter, more-subdued role of John Matthews well. He’s not a chiseled action figure that the bad guys are suddenly pissing their pants with fear over. He’s a regular guy way in over his head and is fully aware of it. You see the toll that playing both sides has on him as he struggles to keep the lies that protect him and his family safe. The relationship with his son is always the focal point of his decisions and keeps the film from deviating into mindless violence for mindless violence’s sake. There is a scene where Matthews quietly and sadly comes to the realization of the risk he’s placed on his family as he talks on the phone with his wife. It’s a very quiet moment where Johnson is able to convey the inner torment of his character without having to say a word and it is very emotionally satisfying. This may be Dwayne’s first real foray into dramatic work and I’d say that it is a very promising start.
The other actors do very well in playing their roles with the same amount of quiet-yet-compelling pathos. Jon Bernthal (THE WALKING DEAD) is equally as entertaining and sympathetic as one of Matthews’ employees with a criminal background who is reluctantly dragged back into a dangerous world of crime in order to help him make the illegal connections necessary for his whistle-blowing. He’s given an equally compelling arc as things come to a head between him and Matthews and animosity over dragging him back into “the life” finally spills over and makes his fight to hold on to his own family as emotionally-investing as Matthews’ determination to save his son. Barry Pepper (TRUE GRIT) plays a DEA Agent who watches out for Matthews and fully comprehends the danger the man is putting himself into, but is helpless to do nothing but watch from a distance. Susan Sarandon (DEAD MAN WALKING) plays the local District Attorney holding the keys to Jason’s freedom, but tows the ethical line and manipulates Matthews, events and actions to suit her “ends justify the means” mentality in bringing down the cartel while still exuding a fair amount of charm and cold-hard professionalism. And to round out the cast is Benjamin Bratt (TRAFFIC) as a horribly under-utilized yet still very intimidating drug kingpin named El Topo.
The action is well done throughout the film without appearing to be too gratuitous. The final confrontation may seem a little far-fetched in comparison to the rest of the narrative, but Dwayne Johnson still sells you on the idea that the task is no walk in the park. In fact, much of the action is played for realism rather than spectacle in order to further hammer home the concept that John Matthews may have bitten off more than he can chew in his selfless effort to do right by his son. Many twists and plot conveniences do arise that are fairly typical of crime dramas of this ilk, but Dwayne and company keep you invested with the characters and their strife. It may not be anything necessarily new, but it is still engaging.
All in all, SNITCH was a very unexpected and pleasant viewing. The marketing for this film is almost something of a disservice since it’s painting it as just another addition to the collection of non-stop action romps that Dwayne Johnson has accumulated in his film career. If anything, it demonstrates that Johnson is fully capable of handling a more down-to-earth and subtle role and is able to make you forget about his former persona of The Rock. He is able to convey the “everyman” status very well and the supporting cast helps to bolster the necessary tension needed to tell this tale of a man willing to do whatever it takes to save his son. It is a surprisingly successful dramatic turn for Dwayne Johnson that you should not pass up if you’re a fan. My guess is, he’s only getting started…
See Mike’s McGTV video log on SNITCH. CAUTION- may contain explicit language: