Directed By: Ric Roman Waugh
Written By: Justin Haythe & Ric Roman Waugh
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Michael K. Williams, Rafi Gavron.
A young man named Jason (Rafi Gavron) is sent a package of drugs from a friend to hold on to, but as soon as Jason opens it up, he discovers a DEA tracking device, and the police start to break his door down. After he is arrested, his estranged father, John Matthews, (Dwayne Johnson) is contacted, and comes down to see his son. When Matthews arrives, their lawyer tells him that Jason had enough drugs to be charged with intent to distribute narcotics and that the mandatory minimum sentencing laws would keep him in prison for ten years. The lawyer also recommends that he snitch on someone else in the drug game, or maybe even set someone up. Jason is a good kid, and refuses to set up one of his high school friends in order to get a lighter sentence.
Matthews decides to do whatever he can to help get his son out of prison. He reaches out to a federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) to see if there is anything else he can do to alleviate the prison time. Unfortunately, she is both too concerned with her upcoming Congressional campaign, and too firm a believer in the mandatory minimum sentencing laws to really give Matthews the time of the day. Matthews even goes so far as to offer to help make arrests in place of Jason, but it isn’t until he gets an introduction to a mid-level dealer named Malik (Michael K. Williams) that the prosecutor agrees to the deal. Despite the agreement, Matthews really has no idea of what he’s walking in to.
By far, Snitch’s strongest asset is the performances that the actors give. Johnson gives his most layered and human performance to date. Matthews is a tough old-school kind of man but he is clearly driven to help his son, due to a sense of guilt having not been around as much after the divorce to his ex-wife. Johnson goes into some deeper dramatic territory than he’s gone before, and it pays off, especially in the emotional scenes with Jason. After this movie, I do think that it is likely that Johnson will try to hone in more on dramatic roles like this. While he’s not Oscar level yet, given enough time and the right role, it’s not inconceivable.
Jon Bernthal plays the deuteragonist of the the film, an ex-con named Daniel who is employed with Matthews’ construction company, and provides the introduction to Malik in exchange for a large sum of money. Bernthal does a strong job all-around, showing Daniels’ reluctance to become involved in the game again, but also the fact that he could be very dangerous if threatened. Though Susan Sarandon plays a very one-dimensional role, she makes it very easy to dislike her character. Barry Pepper plays a DEA agent who is far more sympathetic to Matthews’ plight and becomes an ally in the investigation. Michael K. Willimas is no stranger to the role of gangsta leader, and he does everything he needs to make the role feel legitimate.
However, the film does have its weaker features. The editing and cinematography are inconsistent throughout the film, and they sometimes feel like they’re part of two entirely different movies. The earlier parts of the film, especially the first act, feature shots that are out of focus and are sometimes only on the screen for two seconds. This makes the film feel too jarring and somewhat unpleasant to view in the earlier scenes. Thankfully, it does find its own groove later in the film, and there’s a more consistent style. The climax also feels just a bit out of left field, and while there is payoff, it feels like it all happened a bit too easily and more safe than the build-up implied.
Though the film was “inspired by true events,” there is no “Where Are They Now?” end cards before the credits. There is only an ominous fact to leave the audience to ponder. According to the filmmakers, the mandatory minimum sentencing laws for first-time non-violent drug offenders are longer than those for murderers, rapists, and even child molesters. While the real villains of the piece are indeed violent people that deserve long prison terms, the film makes a strong case that the War on Drugs should have a change in tactics.
In conclusion, “Snitch” is an enjoyable experience because of the character work involved. It serves more as a stepping stone for the careers of Dwayne Johnson and Jon Bernthal, and after the work they put here, it will be interesting to see what they will do next.