Who would have thought it? A film positioned as an action-thriller starring Dwayne Johnson turns out to be a surprisingly thoughtful drama where the action takes second place to the plot. Snitch is more interested in storytelling than showing a continuous barrage of gun play and car chasing, and more power to it.
When Johnson’s teenage son is basically set up by a friend to look after a box stuffed with illegal drugs, he is immediately arrested by the DEA and faced with a mandatory prison sentence of no less than ten years. During a Skype message with his ‘friend,’ the teenager showed total reluctance in having anything to do with the delivery, but when the UPS man arrives at his doorstep, the boy signs for the package anyhow and takes it in. That was his mistake. And for that simple act, he now has a brutal prison sentence to face.
Before anything else happens, my first thought was that if the police were listening in on the call, which they presumably were, it would have been obvious that the kid was an innocent bystander and that it was wrong to intentionally put him in this position – what they were doing was nothing short of entrapment – but of course, if anyone in the DEA had suddenly said, no, this is obviously an ordinary kid who shouldn’t be a part of this, there would have been no film. “He’s a good kid!” his grieving mother declares.
Johnson plays John Matthews, an ordinary guy who runs a trucking delivery business. The moment he sees his son in handcuffs, shuffling through the court room, flanked by armed guards, his heart is broken, and it’s at that moment you realize that the film is actually aiming for something more than simply setting up a basic plot in order to have Johnson’s character seek revenge. There’s something else going on here.
The father goes to federal prosecutor Susan Sarandon, nicknamed the Dragon Lady, and appeals for a lesser sentence. She initially appears unsympathetic to the father’s cause. “You’d do the same for your kid,” Johnson says in his first meeting with her. “I don’t have any children,” she responds with a smile, and adds, “I believe in the mandatory laws.”
But Johnson strikes a deal to become a kind of undercover informant in order to trap and ultimately catch a big wig in a local drug cartel. If he succeeds, the prosecutor would see her way to having his son’s prison sentence considerably reduced. “Don’t worry,” Johnson tells her, determined to see this through. “Believe me, I’m not worried,” she responds. “The risk is all yours.”
What follows is a study of a man involving himself in something he doesn’t understand and is most definitely out of his league. He goes through the motions of mixing with the underbelly of our society, but he’s frustrated, vulnerable, and has no clue what he’s really doing, and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, whose acting chops appear to develop for the better with every film, does a good job of expressing that.
The film touches on themes explored in thorough detail by the recent documentary The House I Live In, which explained the injustices of drug laws, mandatory sentences, and the innocent lives affected when trapped in the system. While I’m not suggesting that Snitch is in any way as serious a study or as thought-provoking as that excellent documentary, it nevertheless successfully illustrates both the injustices and ugliness of being involved in any way with the distribution of illegal narcotics. It’s good to be occasionally surprised at the movies, and this was one of those times.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 95 minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)