For a February release that passed under the radar at the box office, “Snitch” provides a surprisingly good and gritty experience, free of the melodramatic glitz of most of the other films opening this month.
The film follows John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) as he attempts to clear his son Jason (Rafi Gavron) of drug smuggling charges by smuggling drugs himself to obtain convictions for high-level drug dealers.
The film’s cheesy story seems like it would make it all too easy for director Ric Roman Waugh to throw in unnecessary explosions, dramatically over-the-top dialogue and preachy morals like many of the other movies with the same subject matter, but Waugh certainly took the high road in that respect. The film portrays violence and drugs mostly in a very blunt, unglorified manner, that neither supports nor condemns the drugs or the war on drugs, and none of the characters are ever presented as definitive heroes or villains.
The drug dealers, Matthews and all of his partners in crime are presented instead as conflicted characters, and the cast does an amazing job of demonstrating that to the audience.
Matthews’ strained relationships with his son and his employee-turned-accomplice (Jon Bernthal) are at the forefront of the film, and Johnson’s performance as the troubled father, business owner and unwilling drug smuggler is real and helps drive the movie. However, it takes second place to Bernthal’s performance as his partner in crime.
Bernthal plays Daniel James, a reformed ex con with two strikes working at Matthews’ construction company, who agrees to arrange a meeting between Matthews and a drug dealer from James’ troubled past. He doesn’t know that Matthews intends to turn in James’ old contacts, and his discovery of this leads to one of the most electrifying scenes of the movie.
It may be difficult for some viewers to enjoy a movie like this because of how frankly it presents the subject matter of the story. Not only does it avoid nutty action scenes, it doesn’t cushion the grit of the movie with any scenes of comedic relief or forced sentimentality.
The focus on realism certainly makes it an emotional ride, and while the viewer will certainly not go home feeling warm and fuzzy inside, the experience is still fulfilling.
The movie doesn’t bother with many unnecessary details, while still managing to provide deep characters, relying on the actors to tell the story instead of heavy-handed expositional dialogue that many movies have. At times, “Snitch” tells a great deal without using actors to obviously spell it out to the audience.
The biggest problem with the movie is its pace. It may be just under two hours, but it feels much closer to three. While it isn’t enough to redeem the pace of the film, the slow build-up does make the inevitable final shootout scene much more climactic.
That’s not to say it’s an amazing movie, but it does exceed expectations. So if you’ve had enough over-produced Hollywood flair for one movie season, take a break with “Snitch”.