Snitch (2013) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
23Feb/130

Snitch (2013)

There's the cheddah'Andrew INDIFFERENCE BannerIf nothing else, Snitch should be commended for taking some risks with its story and presentation.  I went in to the film knowing nothing except Dwayne Johnson is on some mission to save his son and Michael K. Williams is starring in a supporting role.  That seems like a sure-fire recipe for action success right off the bat, but that's not the direction that Snitch takes.  Instead of high-danger and tension the risk comes more from people putting their professional and social currency on the line and engaging in some unadvised risky behavior.

One early scene with John Matthews (Johnson) shows it all.  He cuts an imposing figure but that's because of all the work he has to put into his construction business.  When he goes out looking for some kind of connection into the drug world to save his son he gets beaten down badly by a gaggle of nondescript gangsters.  This isn't the same Johnson that's punched a dinosaur or blew up half a jungle, he's vulnerable, out of his league, and when given the opportunity to play against type does it very well.

Dwayne Johnson should be huge at this point and his performance in Snitch is part of why.  There's not a second he isn't credible or compelling in the role.

Dwayne Johnson should be huge at this point and his performance in Snitch is part of why. There's not a second he isn't credible or compelling in the role.

The same can't be said for the rest of the film and its shaky plotting.  John is out getting into trouble because his son was caught with drugs after a confused exchange leads to hefty prison time under mandatory minimum sentencing.  For all the drug shenanigans to follow the film makes sure that the specter of this mandatory sentencing is weighing in on all of John's actions.  It's a confusing moral path to take considering his kid ended up in the situation somewhat of his own volition and that the eventual drug lords are played with less villainous panache than the strawman District Attorney villain played by Susan Sarandon.

She represents an interesting an infuriating aspect of the film.  The entire story would not have taken place if, as she admits at one point in the film, she just pardons the obviously over-his-head kid and doesn't use the full mandatory minimum.  Sarandon relishes in the role a little too much and at points seems like she needs a mustache to twirl as she dangles the boy's freedom in front of John in exchange for a deeper connection into the drug world.  Her more conflicted investigator, played by Barry Pepper as if he's auditioning for a somber episode of Sons of Anarchy, hates the plan but still goes along with it and puts John in deeper trouble at one point of the film.

Everything about that scenario, and the whole film, that is interesting is counterbalanced by questionable decisions.  I enjoyed that the movie was willing to examine the harm of mandatory minimum sentencing, but not that it had to remind us of it so melodramatically (especially over the ending credits).  It's also incredibly interesting that the two white superiors force every minority in the film to put their future on the line for the sake of their personal advancement.  This component doesn't go unnoticed, but little is made of it as the details of John's personal investigation grow more complicated and, by extension, a bit too silly.

Whenever Waugh calms down he can stage some great sequences, like this slow boiling confrontation between Johnson and Bernthal that sets the stakes early in the film.

Whenever Waugh calms down he can stage some great sequences, like this slow boiling confrontation between Johnson and Bernthal that sets the stakes early in the film.

Still, Johnson is game the whole time and despite the fact I wish he was in better films I do enjoy that he takes roles in more off-beat projects.  For some audiences this may be their introduction to Michael K. Williams, who plays the local drug kingpin, or Jon Bernthal, the unlucky construction worker who just happens to have a record.  Williams brings an impressive level of credibility to his role and Bernthal also gives his character a nice tormented shade.  It's not work that will surprise anyone familiar with their television pasts, but they are strong supporting players for Johnson to bounce off of.

With so many interesting parts I came close to enjoying the film but describing it is much better than watching it.  Director Ric Roman Waugh decided to film nearly the entire film in close-up of the performers faces and, when not focused on that, fully embracing the shaky-cam aesthetic.  It's nauseating, and while it's representative of John's confusion, he's much more in control of himself than the camera is of its motion.  When Ric calms down and stages a sequence without close-ups or shakes, such as the semi-crash climax or the introduction of Williams' drug boss, he does much better.

The film is a low key affair played for high stylized tension, and this is the first film of Waugh's not to go straight-to-DVD.  It's a learning experience, and not an uninteresting one, with just enough for me to hope for better things in his future.

Snitch - TailSnitch (2013)
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh.
Screenplay written by Justin Haythe and Waugh.
Starring Dwayne Johnson.

Posted by Andrew

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