Mark Reviews Movies



2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Michael K. Williams, Rafi Gavron, Melina Kanakaredes, Nadine Velazquez, Benjamin Bratt

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for drug content and sequences of violence)

Running Time: 1:52

Release Date: 2/22/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 22, 2013

There's little Snitch has to say about the United States' policy of instituting mandatory sentencing for possessing drugs beyond the fact that it's unfair. Here, a poor kid has a package of ecstasy delivered to his house by a friend who's trying to cut a deal with federal prosecutors by giving them another possible drug runner to prosecute. For prosecutors, the benefit of the policy is inarguable. It's in a defendant's best interest to pass the buck to get a reduced sentence. If he or she does, they still go to jail, and the government has another defendant, who, in theory, will give them someone else. If a defendant doesn't, he or she gets a long prison sentence, and the government looks tough on crime.

We receive this information in a pair of expository scenes, and soon after, the screenplay by Justin Haythe and director Ric Roman Waugh drops any kind of attempt at a social statement regarding the issue until the movie's coda informs us that the majority of people imprisoned for drug possession are first-timers and that the sentence can be higher than those for murder, rape, and other crimes in which the harm to another person is clear.

That the movie does not have a firm hold on its examination of the country's drug enforcement policy is of little matter during its middle section. The movie's reliance on a loaded scenario to dissect the program's flaws and an unintentionally amusing caricature to represent the expedient, uncaring rule of law, though, does call into the question the sincerity of the premise.

The story—"inspired by true events"—concerns John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), an ordinary man who owns an ordinary construction company (where he still helps his employees with some of the heavy lifting) and has an ordinary current family. His previous family, though, is a different story. John believes his ex-wife Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes) coddles their teenage son Jason (Rafi Gravron), who resents his father for leaving them for a better life with another family.

When Jason is arrested because of the aforementioned scenario, he, his mother, and John are completely helpless. Jason is looking at least 30 years in prison for possessing drugs he didn't want and had no intention of distributing. Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), the U.S. Attorney on Jason's case who is also running for Congress (for an extra layer of cynicism), explains that she can do nothing unless Jason helps them, but he refuses to turn on any of his friends in the same fashion his supposed friend did.

John suggests to Keeghan that he do the grunt work in tracking down other drug offenders, and it's an offer the prosecutor scoffs at upon hearing it. After a disastrous first attempt to buy drugs on the street almost gets him killed, he—now with the aid of Keeghan and an undercover DEA agent named Cooper (Barry Pepper)—tries to track down some bigger targets with the help of one of his employees, an ex-felon named Daniel (Jon Bernthal) who is one felony away from a long incarceration, needs the money his boss offers to get his own family out of a bad neighborhood, and has no idea that John is cooperating with the feds.

At this point, the movie becomes the story of two desperate men who, with disparate understandings of circumstances, get in way over their heads in order to keep their respective families together. The screenplay loses focus on the reason for John's mission (There are only three scenes between father and son, and their conflict is resolved in a single, unconvincing scene). In its place, there's a fairly complicated dynamic that develops between John and Daniel. Both have misgivings about John's plan to become entangled in the dealings of criminals like Malik (Michael K. Williams), a local dealer who's trying to keep a low profile, and "El Topo" (Benjamin Bratt), a Mexican cartel leader whose name literally makes Keeghan's jaw drop, but only one of them knows the actual reason for the scheme.

Daniel's apprehension is as much about disappointment in himself for returning to his former life as it is about the fear of getting caught, and there's a tangible level of antipathy he has toward John for tempting him. John, meanwhile, must deceive almost everyone, although he is more forthright with his wife (Nadine Velazquez) than we might anticipate (Nothing comes of that relationship, either). Johnson and Bernthal are solid, especially in conveying a level of vulnerability to these two men that belies their tough exterior appearances, and the stakes feel less artificial as a result.

While the movie provides its central characters some unexpected depth, there is not much room for them to move outside of the plot. Even more frustrating is the resolution, which abandons all social and character concerns for an extended two-part climax full of flying bullets and careening cars. Seeing as Snitch begins as a naïve social commentary, it's perhaps only fitting that the movie ends with simplistic, chaotic bursts of violence. It's as if Haythe and Waugh determine that, while they may have little to say about the key issue of the movie, they are going to say it loudly.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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