In Snitch, John Matthews, a father played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, goes undercover for the Drug Enforcement Administration in order to to catch a drug dealer and free his college-bound son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), who’s in federal prison.
Jason’s buddy Craig (James Allen McCune), a drug dealer has given the feds Jason’s name in order to reduce his prison sentence from 10 years to two. This puts an innocent Jason behind bars with hardened criminals, who see Jason as tender meat.
Snitch’s storyline is that John, a successful businessman who owns a construction company, calls in every favor owed to him and then some to get Jason out of prison.
This leads John to a meeting with the district attorney, Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon). Joanne is up for re-election and sees every person arrested for drug trafficking as just a pawn to get to the cartels. Joanne is thinking that if she can nail a drug kingpin, she’s she’s guaranteed to be re-elected.
Screenwriters Justin Haythe and Ric Roman Waugh (who also directed the film) are attempting to shine a light on the trend of felons “snitching” on friends and getting them caught regardless of whether they are innocent. It’s all about saving their own butts; survival of the biggest snitch. Commendably, Jason doesn’t want to do to someone else what was done to him by a “friend.” So John has to step in to snitch for him.
Snitch has the trappings of being a good film – the Rock is in it – but the script can supply only the blueprint for how Snitch should look. Waugh, mostly known for being a stunt double, isn’t very experienced in the director’s chair. Before Snitch he directed three films that gained little traction. Judging by Snitch’s dullness, Waugh has some work ahead of him before he can call himself a good director.
Haythe and Waugh also want to tell the audience that the ten-year sentencing in federal prison for drug dealers and suspected drug dealers is unfair, because there is lighter sentencing for people who commit rape and manslaughter. The real issue should be that rapists and people who commit manslaughter are in prison for fewer than ten years.
Haythe and Waugh were on to something when they conceptualized their screenplay to show there is a system that tortures the innocent in favor of catching the big, bad guys. The system is flawed, unfair and should be unconstitutional, but this is happening in a land that can’t seem to rectify it.
The Rock, whose sculpted body looks awesome in anything from construction-worker chic to a suit, tries his best to ham it up as a father. The major issue with Johnson’s performance is that his killer good looks overshadow his acting ability and, thus, his character’s plight of fighting for his son.
It’s bad when the audience pays more attention to the star’s appearance than the issue the film is trying to highlight. Johnson doesn’t seem to connect with his audience, nor his co-stars, so what the audience ends up with is a stud trying to make like a loving parent.
Jon Bernthal, as John’s co-conspirator Daniel James, is a different story. Bernthal makes sure his audience knows that Daniel loves his wife and son and is willing to do anything to protect them. Michael K. Williams as Malik clearly has been cast because of his Wire character, Omar. Williams plays the existential drug dealer better than the rest.
Is it too much to ask that he get better, meatier roles?
While it’s bad that young men and women are wrongly accused of breaking the law and are forced to serve years in federal prison – the worst kind of prison – Waugh fails to do the one thing that would make the entire film worthwhile: He doesn’t give a convincing story that compels his audience to act and speak out against the backward justice system.
A film is supposed to highlight an issue and provide its audience with the tools to address that issue. Snitch fails on both counts.
*Pictured above is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson