Snitch: Dialed down Dwayne Johnson

(older movie reviews with a fresh coat of paint)

Let’s get something straight.  Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock isn’t going to win any awards in his lifetime for acting.   He is an action star with a taste for kids comedies.  He isn’t a good actor and never was engineered to be one.  When people get that ideal confused is where they will under appreciate a fine thriller like this movie.   When I think of the Rock, I think of a big tall intimidating figure of justice.  In Snitch, though, he uncovers a different shade of his action hero persona.   He doesn’t bash a fist through Vin Diesel’s face or toss bad guys around like rag dolls.   Here, he is a regular guy getting way in over his head to help his son avoid long term prison time.

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the gentle giant known as Mr. Johnson.   In fact, he doesn’t throw a single punch the entire film.  There you go, action fans, run away.   Snitch works instead as an intelligent brick laying thriller with a decent dose of drama.    Here we have a trucking company owner, John Andrews(Johnson), living the good life.  He has remarried after a failed marriage(which yielded the troubled son), lives in a big house and has a daughter.  He is riding high and worrying about moving around equity in his business.  Then he gets a call about his son being arrested on drug charges.  Serious drug charges.

Inspired by a true story(which can be taken for truth like a rope of licorice can be bent), Snitch doesn’t shy away from shining a light on the war against drugs.   The charges against the kid are firm, and before we know it, our hero is running around, connecting with ex-cons, meeting with drug bosses and running jobs.   Why?  A good father will do anything to get his son out of harms way.  That is the foundation for this story.  An ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstances in order to save his son.  What would you do?

Anyone who goes into a movie with the Rock hoping for acting excellence doesn’t understand action stars and their purpose.  In more ways than one, Johnson is the Arnold for our generation.  There was a reason Arnold had a cameo in Johnson’s first true action role(and best) in The Rundown.   He was passing the torch.  Like the famous Austrian, Johnson is big, likable, and commands the screen with a simple stare and walk.  He doesn’t have to act to get his point across.  Action stars ruled the earth based on fear and arrogance back in the day.  Johnson is your new last action hero, and like Arnold, he mixes in the friendlier family fare to go with his dose of action dramas.  In Snitch, he is surprisingly good with a more dramatic role but in no way makes you think he has graduated to the school of good acting.  He simply proves that he can handle a heavier action role and one day be ready for something more.  He is as good as the role calls for it to be and that’s it.

He surrounds himself with a great cast, including the criminally underused Pepper and the wonderful talent Sarandon.   Jon Bernthal(a character actor and director) has a good role as Daniel, the man who helps Andrews get inside.  Bratt throws a little curve on the typical drug cartel enemy.  The plot is set up to create real suspense and as the film builds towards its explosive finale, the intensity builds.

This film also puts the drug war on full display by pitting Johnson and the authorities against the drug cartel and doesn’t let far-fetched gun play and hand to hand combat dull the relevance of the source material.  Instead of turning a regular guy into GI JOE, Andrews is simply a desperate man caught up in a deadly game and the film doesn’t let that notion go until the quick and well-timed explosive finale.  It’s a credit to the filmmakers that the action stays away for nearly 2/3 of the running time, and not a single second of the 95 minute running time goes to waste.

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate Films

The best thing about Snitch that I can say is that it is a patient film, and director Waugh doesn’t let anyone get melodramatic or ham up the screen with a misguided take on a role.   These actors play the people as real souls and nothing more.    A couple critics complained afterwards that Johnson can’t act.   The truth is he isn’t paid to act.  Anyone walking into a film with the Rock expecting award winning acting from the muscular star is supremely misguided.  Whether he likes it or not, the Rock is an action star.   He just plays different shades of heroes, regular and extreme.  Here, he is a regular guy in a tough situation and that creates an intriguing plot and makes for a solid enjoyable film.

This isn’t high science or wants to rework your brain.   It’s a thriller with some pretty good moments and enough brains to convince you there is life for action stars nonetheless.  The poster for the film doesn’t sell the film right.   Seeing Johnson standing proud with his sleeves rolled up and his hand curled into a fist isn’t the right visual for this film, but maybe that was the tool of misdirection.   Snitch doesn’t sneak up and floor you or change cinema.  It’s a fine thriller with a worthy story.

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