Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Movie Review: Snitch

Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh.
Written by: Justin Haythe and Ric Roman Waugh.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson (John Matthews), Barry Pepper (Agent Cooper), Jon Bernthal (Daniel James), Susan Sarandon (Joanne Keeghan), Michael Kenneth Williams (Malik), Rafi Gavron (Jason Collins), Melina Kanakaredes (Sylvie Collins), Nadine Velazquez (Analisa), Benjamin Bratt (Juan Carlos 'El Topo' Pintera), Lela Loren (Vanessa), JD Pardo (Benicio), David Harbour (Jay Price), Harold Perrineau (Jeffrey Steele).

Despite the fact that he is built like a WWE superstar, there has always been an everyman quality to the screen presence of Dwayne Johnson, which is quietly appealing. He is best at playing good guys, because his big goofy smile is just too damn likable to be evil. He’s one of those actors you don’t need to be told is a good guy in every movie – you simply know he is. Perhaps Snitch is Johnson’s attempt to break free, at least somewhat, of the action movie ghetto he finds himself in. In the film, he plays a normal guy – he runs his own construction business, and although he looks big and tough, he is still vulnerable and human. Until the movie flies off the rails in the final act – becoming the type of implausible action movie, full of chase sequences and gun fights that the film had previously seemed like it was rejecting – Johnson quietly carries the movie with his normal guy presence. I like this Johnson better than action hero Johnson.

Johnson stars as John Matthews, a normal guy with a successful construction company. He’s on his second family – now married to Analisa (Nadine Velazquez), after divorcing first wife Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes). This means he moved out of the house where his son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), lives – and he has become a rebellious teenager, bitter and angry at his father for breaking up the family. Jason makes a silly mistake – the kind of mistake any teenager could make – by agreeing to accept a package that his friend is going to Fedex him. He knows the package contains ecstasy, but he doesn’t think it will matter. He’s not dealing it, he’s just holding onto it for a day. Of course, it’s a setup, and Jason is busted as soon as he accepts the package. This is a Federal Charge, and under the new mandatory minimums set forth, Jason will go to jail for 10 years, unless he can turn over another drug dealer. The problem is, he doesn’t know any other drug dealers. And this is when John decides to step up. His plan is to give the Feds – representing by US Attorney and Congressional Candidate Susan Sarandon and agent Barry Pepper – a bigger drug dealer. He makes nice with a new worker in his company, who has twice been convicted of dealing drugs (Jon Bernthal) and gets him to set up a meeting with Malik (Michael K. Williams). And, of course, soon John is in WAY over his head.

The movie is said to be based on a true story, but I have a feeling that this isn’t one of those films that sticks closely to the facts because the movie is too outlandish to believe. I’ll let you discover the twists and turns of the movie yourself if you’re going to see the movie, but I have a very hard time believing that John would come into contact with so many big players as quickly as does – and that they all just immediately trust him. And the climax of the movie, which involves a complicated plot John to ensure he gets everything he wants, and ends with shootouts, and the kind of freeway car chases that only the movies, just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie.

No one is really going to mistake Snitch for a very good movie, but at least for the first two-thirds, it is an interesting little character study disguised as a thriller. Johnson has perhaps never been better than he is here – and although the supporting cast is playing rather perfunctory roles, they do so effectively. Michael K. Williams in particular oozes menace as Malik, Jon Bernthal is effective as a man trying to turn his life around, and Barry Pepper has a ridiculous goatee, and seems to be doing a strange accent for his own amusement – but it amused me too, so I liked it. Susan Sarandon is given nothing to do as the “Dragon Lady” Attorney, who cares about nothing except her own ambitions, and Benjamin Bratt simply smirks behind his overly large sunglasses, but both are about as good as their limited roles allow them to be. The movie lays things a little too thick – it is clearly a story about fathers and sons, with the fathers trying very hard not to screw up their kids.

The movie could have survived many of these clich├ęs had it come up with a more effective way to end the movie. As it stands, it’s yet another movie with an implausible action movie climax, which while adequately handled by director Ric Roman Waugh, is a letdown to those of us in the audience who would have appreciated a more intelligent ending. Snitch is not a good movie, but mainly because of Johnson, it’s a lot better than it probably has any right to be.

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