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Monday, March 4, 2013


Snitch wisely opens with the disclaimer "inspired by true events", which is good because things are a tad exaggerated (more on this later). The film sees Dwayne Johnson, who has for all intents and purposes completely dropped "The Rock" moniker, as the successful owner of a large trucking company in the heart of urban Missouri. His son, born to his now ex-wife, is caught early on by a DEA shakedown when a friend of his has him "hold" some narcotics for the weekend. We find out that mandatory minimum laws based on the amount he is caught with constitutes him as a drug dealer, which comes tied with a ten year prison sentence. That is unless he is willing to give up or "inform" on other dealers. This is where things get interesting: Dwayne Johnson's character John Matthews offers himself up as the required informant when his son refuses to do so.

It's obvious that director Ric Roman Waugh (who also wrote the film and prior to directing was a rather famous stuntman) despises this mandatory minimum system. As the text at the end reminds us, the average minimum sentence for non-violent drug offenses is now higher than that for crimes such as rape. In the end though, Waugh does remember that this is a movie and while the social commentary is present it never really overwhelms you. Filmed a little blandly at first, the movie does push itself for more style towards the end of the second act and a subtle use of slow motion in some of the car crash/chase scenes were handled rather well. Some of the latter shots of the surrounding city were filmed in a sprawling, sodium light hued format that's very enticing to the eye if not a little too similar to 2004's Collateral. In fact, influences can be seen from that film not only in the cinematography but the film score itself.

This is of no surprise since the composer, Antonio Pinto, was actually a writer of additional music for Collateral (a backup composer if you will). While there isn't anything particularly wrong with that, it would have been nice if some more original sounding pieces were used. The supporting cast is rounded out by Susan Sarandon (in a fairly decent turn as a prosecutor with a political ambitions), Jon Bernthal (of AMC's The Walking Dead fame), and Barry Pepper (last seen in the January flop Broken City). Everyone does a decent job if not a particularly memorable one. The film manages to transcend the rather inconsistent early March fare with solid direction and a focused purpose. Seeing a grounded approach to how someone could plausibly ingrain themselves in the world of drug trafficking was nice to watch and despite some slow pacing issues, the film closes itself off in a logical way.

However, it's not perfect. I find it hard to believe a prosecutor and undercover DEA agent would allow a civilian informant to get in as much danger as they put John Matthews in. Of course, it is a movie but a more reasonable explanation (perhaps if Matthews actually had a background in policing?) would have been nice to see. Overall, you could do much worse than Snitch this time of year and something that looked barely passable will manage to surprise you.

Acquitted of All Charges...
  • A good and believably grounded turn for Dwayne Johnson as a man who just wants to give his son a second chance.
  • Strong direction and writing filled with social commentary but not so on the nose that you're taken out of the movie.
  • At no point does the movie try to make Dwayne Johnson's character something he's not: an invincible action star (see the latest Die Hard). 
  • A nice intensity shown by an early scene when Johnson's character is introduced to the world of drug trafficking. 
  25 to Life...
  • Some cinematography and large potions of the film score is a bit too reminiscent of 2004's Collateral.
  •  Some inconsistent character work shown by both Susan Sarandon and Barry Pepper respectively (how can they both get angry at each other for doing the exact same thing at different parts in the movie?).
  • Dwayne Johnson's character is put in an implausible amount of danger despite supposedly being under DEA surveillance and protection.
  • Can we not talk about how ridiculous Barry Pepper's goatee/beard/bird nest for a face looks?!
  • Minor pacing problems: the film takes too long to get past Johnson's character John Matthews' introduction to the world of drug trafficking and wraps itself up a bit too quickly.
Verdict: The judge sentences you to probation: you could do much worse for an early March film. Perhaps not quite good enough for a theater viewing, Snitch manages to make a name for itself in a rather tumultuous time of the year for decent movie options.

Check out this story on the effects of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing...


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