Snitch is “inspired by true events.” Which is to say, it centers around a real-life choice mandated by the justice system for prisoners arrested on drug charges: become an informant, or face lengthy jail time. This preface gives the wrong impression though since the characters in this film don’t exactly have real-life counterparts. If they did, well… then they would probably have to be as jacked as Dwayne Johnson.
Snitch, directed and co-scripted by former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh, may have cheated somewhat with this veil of supposed truth, but he does succeed in making a consistently entertaining film that certainly delivers with its action sequences and many winning performances from its very strong cast. Unfortunately it also falls short plot-wise, somewhat detracting from its overall action film bravado, and has some pacing issues too thanks to staggered action sequences.
John Matthews (Johnson) is a very successful and hulking owner of a construction company. He married to the beautiful Analisa (Nadine Velazquez), with whom he shares a young daughter, and lives in a stately home. There is trouble in paradise when his eighteen-year-old son from an earlier marriage, Jason (Rafi Gavron),gets busted for accepting a package of drugs from a friend. While Jason is a first-time offender, he nevertheless faces the mandated ten to thirty years in federal prison because he won’t snitch on his friends to cut a deal.
Calling in favors from his important friends, John gets an appointment to see Federal Prosecutor Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) who is unable to do John any favors with lessening his son’s sentence… until he offers to become a snitch himself. John infiltrates the drug world through Daniel (Jon Bernthal), a reformed criminal who wants to put his wayward past behind him but desperate to keep his family afloat cannot refuse John’s offer of $20,000.
John strikes a deal to move drugs for dealer Malik (Michael K. Williams), and Keeghan agrees to cut his son’s sentence with Malik’s capture. That deal falls by the wayside when she and DEA Agent Cooper (Barry Pepper, sporting a super-Method long goatee) realize they have more to gain if John can help to bring down drug kingpin El Topo (Benjamin Bratt) instead…
Johnson is very strong as a father willing to risk it all for his child – and his character is more layered than he has to be, given that a lot of the reason he so fiercely wishes to help his son is because he feels that he was absent for much of his life. His past/present wrestling persona aside, Johnson is a capable actor who radiates pure joy from his wide smile and believably pulls off his role in this film. He has that important combination for an action star to not only bring the pain in fight sequences, but simultaneously evoke a warmth and a sense of humor that makes his characters more fully-fledged and very likable. John is constantly calculating how he can both save his family and himself and as a viewer it’s impossible not to root for him.
While Johnson certainly is the star here, Bernthal is the standout in Snitch and steals every scene. His character is clearly supposed to be a thematic mirror for Johnson’s in that they are both fathers on the brink of desperation. Bernthal adds a certain tenderness to his reformed convict role and effortlessly conveys the depth of his character’s conflict in taking a risk versus possibly allowing his family to rise above their current state of being. There is one particular scene in which his character silently reflects on the situation, looking at himself in the mirror, all covered in prison tattoos – he doesn’t have to say anything, but his expressive eyes do all the talking for him.
Bernthal’s Daniel is very present in the middle of the film, but is somewhat phased out toward the end to the point where you wonder where he is. This is an issue indicative of the film’s overall issue with carrying the plot through to the end. Much of the film is Johnson carrying out his drug exchanges and snitching, but when he is through the movie doesn’t really know what to do with itself. The ending is certainly the film’s dark spot, as it feels slapped together and overly convenient.
The action sequences are also executed to a mixed result. They look great, but there probably should have been more in order to maintain viewer interest – more time is spent with John talking to Keeghan and Cooper about what is going to go down than showing viewers what actually goes down. The overall energy of the film, because of this, is sometimes lacking. That being said, when done right, Waugh really delivers with the action sequences. When John and Daniel make their first drug deal, for instance, there is a truly impressive truck chase scene that has you both in awe of the action aesthetics, as well as filled with worry for those two dads to get out alive.
It’s doubtful that Snitch will be remembered by many in years to come. It has a lot of flaws, especially with plot and pacing, but it is a fun two hours that delivers most of what its targeted audiences should expect. You get action, you get Dwayne Johnson as a conflicted father, you get a great supporting cast… and it’s totally fine that that whole “inspired by true events” thing is somewhat of an overstatement.
The Upside: The majority of performances are great; well-executed action sequences
The Downside: There were a lot of issues in striking the right balance of action sequences; ending feels slapped together
On the Side: On the playlist at John Matthews’ BBQ in an early scene? The Cranberries. He had to let it linger.