The synopsis of Snitch seems to confirm the modern critique that Hollywood has run out of plausible ideas, and simply makes any excuse for action to occur. This sentiment, however, is doubly incorrect for the newest Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson action-drama.
The story follows an ordinary citizen named John (Dwayne Johnson), who goes undercover in an attempt to arrest a major drug dealer, so that the District Attorney will let his wrongfully imprisoned son out of jail. The plot sounds rather fantastical until viewers learn that it is based on a true story, and discover that this action-drama is surprisingly more dramatic than pulse-pounding.
Seeing Johnson as the lead character inspires the idea that this film will either be a testosterone-fest (Fast Five) or a family comedy (Tooth Fairy), but he instead brings out a more emotional side, emphasizing the pain of a parent worried about his son.
Jon Bernthal plays Daniel—an ex-con trying to set his life straight, who works with John on one last illegal deal in order to secure his family’s finances. Although both characters are meant to be average guys in a bad situation—men who just want to protect their families—their massive necks and biceps present a different story. I really tried, but I could not take Johnson seriously as a dramatic actor. Whenever he talks about his innocent son and tries to emote his anguish, I could not stop thinking about how many protein shakes he must ingest per day.
Although he, too, is larger and stronger than the average gorilla, Berthal portrays the anxiety brought on by financial stress with his wife (Lela Loren) more effectively. The couple cycles through anger, sadness, and love at all the right moments in their arguments, and convinces the audience of the struggles straining their relationship. Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams), the drug dealer that John and Daniel first work with, also completely embodies his character. He emanates power and respect, manipulating Johnson (who could potentially crush his head like an overweight man sitting on an old kiwi) with only a sentence and a glare. Unfortunately, the performance of the higher ranked kingpin (Benjamin Bratt) fails to hold as much gravitas.
Part of the problem with Snitch is that the film seems constantly confused about its identity; it plays like an action flick while containing the plot and dialogue of a drama. There are only a handful of real action sequences thrown in, but every scene contains an exhilarating score and shaky hand-held shots—implying movement when the scene merely consists of men conversing. The action scenes themselves are forced and unrealistic, but entertaining. At the onset of the film, John has never held a gun—a week later, he shoots and kills four people while driving.
The audience is meant to believe that John is enduring this hardship to save his son; in reality, he doesn’t even know the boy particularly well. John divorced the mother years earlier, and he now has a new family. He completely ignores this new family, however, isolating his daughter like he did his son, despite beginning the film by swearing never to make that mistake again.
An unexpected political message came in the last shot: the statement that a first-time offender of non-aggressive drug possession in the U.S. may serve more time than someone convicted of rape or manslaughter. This fact inspires a more political angle from which to consider both the film’s events and tone.
Despite questionable motives and wobbly shots, Snitch contains a few scenes with real emotional impact, and a strong sense of suspense throughout. Due to its action veneer and dramatic content, the film could be a bridge for a younger audience learning to appreciate movies—not just for pure entertainment, but for their emotional message.
Snitch is playing at Cinema Banque Scotia (977 Ste-Catherine West).