For all its marketing collateral, Snitch appears to be your token action flick; Rock-hard frontman, guns-a-blazing to the cries of Sons-In-Distress. But ignore that burning semi-trailer on the poster – this film, created by a former stuntman, offers a surprisingly well-made, well-acted and well-written look into the US federal sentencing system. And it stars Dwayne Johnson. Win.
The People’s Eyebrow is nowhere to be seen in Snitch. Johnson is surprisingly held back as John Matthews, a construction company owner whose son is wrongfully penned for a serious drug trafficking charge. Matthews puts himself undercover to dob in some dangerous dealers and score a get out of jail free card for sonny boy. It’s with particular vulnerability that Johnson joins the ranks of an elite onscreen club: The Avenging Dads of Hollywood, when devoted fathers become Lords of Oh-No-You-Didn’t: Liam Neeson in Taken, Mel Gibson in Ransom, Bruce Willis in Live Free and Die Hard (trying to but not forgetting A Good Day To Die Hard).
Hinged around Johnson’s most genuine performance yet, Snitch is the fifth directorial effort from Ric Roman Waugh, former stuntman for classic action staples Total Recall, True Romance and Days of Thunder. Waugh co-wrote the screenplay based on the 1999 Frontline documentary Snitch, which investigated the use of minor offender snitch informants in the war on drugs. For a film written and directed by a former stuntman, the stunt-quota in Snitch is tastefully held to a few focused, storyline-based sequences.
Waugh successfully avoids another Fast and Furious cookie cutter with his screenplay, denying his genuinely talented actors (Susan Sarandon, Jon Bernthal) the chance to lay down the law in crowd-pleasing soliloquies or lame one-liners. The real “what-the” in the film is the random casting of Benjamin Bratt (Law and Order, Miss Congeniality) as super drug lord Juan Carlos ‘El Topo’ Pintera. Strangely, he is lazily hidden behind terrible sunglasses, George Michael facial hair and a vague Hispanic accent.
Snitch is a better film than the trailers will lead you to believe. With a solid cast, good script and predictably well-executed stunts, it’s a subtly convincing reflection on the problems with US federal mandatory minimum sentences. And Dwayne Johnson’s acting is actually pretty great. There, I said it.
*** 1/2 out of five stars
BY SHANNON CONNELLAN
Snitch is in cinemas now.