Snitch: The Rock in a Hard Place

Dwayne Johnson serious drama and falls flat. But it's mostly his director's fault.

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Summit Entertainment

The likeable Dwayne Johnson tries so hard to be taken seriously in the ponderous and preposterous drama Snitch that it hurts to watch him in much the same way it hurts to watch the weightlifting competition at the summer Olympics. Playing John Matthews, a squeaky clean small-business owner in the construction trade who improbably goes undercover in the drug world to save his son, Johnson struggles to heft emotions into the air, pauses to be admired, and then drops them with a thud. The former professional wrestler and football player  makes a more convincing Tooth Fairy than he does an avenging father.

But Snitch wasn’t going to be good no matter what Johnson did; it is so poorly directed that even Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon, playing a shrewish federal prosecutor, comes off as a hack straight off a soap opera. Director and co-writer (and longtime stuntman) Ric Roman Waugh seems to be enjoying a new career as a director of one-word titled flicks (his last was Felon; his next, Currency) that deal with an ordinary Joe being oppressed by the government’s unfair laws. If Snitch makes a case for anything other than action sequences that utilize shiny new semis—Waugh shoots John Matthews’ 18-wheeler plowing through obstacles as if it were a magnificent elephant on a freeway rampage—it is the easing of drug laws so that nice young men like John’s son Jason (Rafi Gavron) aren’t derailed on their way to college.

(Read: Dwayne Johnson’s plans for the future.)

Poor Jason. One day he’s sitting on the couch Skyping with a friend who wants to send him a package of drugs and resisting mightily, even though gee, it would be fun to do some Ecstasy with his girlfriend. He has about five seconds to drool over the clutch-purse-sized package of MDMA that arrives some days later, before his face is being pressed into asphalt and an undercover agent (Barry Pepper, sporting a goatee that would embarrass even Brad Pitt) is leading him off to prison. Pressured by the DEA, his buddy gave him up. According to Jason’s gloomy attorney (David Harbour), mandatory-minimum sentencing for that many pills is 10 years. “Are you out of your mind?” shrieks Jason’s mom Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes). “He just got accepted into college!”

Sylvie is John’s first wife: Tired, resentful, muttering about layoffs as she comes in the door for her first scene. His new model, Analisa (Nadine Velazquez from Flight) has a smoother complexion and such unnaturally puffy lips that she has a hard time throwing words out over them. Both of them are presented as essentially hysterical unhelpful women who let John do all the hard work in rescuing young Jason. And what work it is. His hopes of sweet-talking the feds into downgrading Jason’s sentence are dashed in his first encounter with nasty Joanne Keeghan (Sarandon). But somehow he persuades her that he can bring in a drug dealer or two since he’s in the construction business and employs ex-cons.

(Read: Mary Pols on Johnson’s Journey 2: The Mysterious Island )

The felon on his crew, Daniel James (Jon Bernthal, who gives Snitch’s only credible performance), gets roped into making introductions even though he’s trying hard to go straight. Soon, John is transporting drugs in his big rigs and getting into the kinds of situations that cause other characters to make observations like “he’s way out of his depth.” Drug runner Malik (Michael K. Williams from Boardwalk Empire) thrusts his gun at John, watches him blanch and is quickly satisfied he’s not a cop. “If you was the po-po you’d be the biggest p—- pig I’d ever seen.” Then he strokes his rosary beads. Did Waugh tell Williams to channel his inner Brando, stroking that cat in The Godfather, as he set up this scene? It’s tired, awkward and empty. The logical lapses mount as the movie goes on, until in the last scenes, absolutely no effort is made to address why a dying man conveniently cooperates, or how a boy is both kidnapped and saved.

Visually, the movie is all over the place. While Waugh allows us full, loving glimpses of say, the grill of John’s car, or the gleaming hulk of that semi, when it comes to people having deep, painful conversations, we get fractions of faces. When John owns up to what an absent dad he’s been to Jason, in an emotional talk over the prison telephones, we see mostly backs of heads. There’s some handheld camera work, but only at precisely the moment when there’s action you might want a decent look at. Things we don’t need to see, like John looking through old job applications to find someone who checked the felony conviction box, get far too much attention. And then there are the prop and costume clichés. The bad guy clutches a rosary. Daniel puts up his hoodie whenever he’s feeling criminal. During a visit to Daniel’s apartment, the dialogue takes a back seat to car alarms and police sirens. In his quest for gritty authenticity, Waugh has fussed over the details but  his version of the underbelly of drug dealing looks like a knock-off. It’s not seamy, it’s silly.

Read: Did Dwayne Johnson know about bin Laden’s death before you did? 

9 comments
RanjithMurali
RanjithMurali

First of all the movie is pretty nice! You dint like though..okay forget that,to each his own but saying Johnson's acting was bad?damn! That was a pretty good performance there!

daone2006
daone2006

I know someone has to take the role of the antagonist and give an objective review, but I think this is a quality performance from "The Rock".  He's come a long way with his acting and I'm sure we'll see more movies with him giving something other than buff & brawn.  This kind of reminds me of the transition that Arnold Schwarzenegger made from Conan all the way up to True Lies.  It will take many roles to complete the crossover, but I'm sure "The Rock" is just enjoying the ride as he gains new fans and respect for his acting efforts on the big screen.  Now the comment about his second wife seems to be out of place since she is a beautiful woman and seems like someone that fits well with "The Rock"'s ethnicity.  As far as the Walking Dead's, Jon, he definitely gives and edge to his character and seems to be right at home in his role.  So I agree with you in the fact that he also gives a great performance, along with the other cast.  Thanks for sharing your opinion about the film.

danagonzales
danagonzales

Mary Pols... you are the worse critic I ever read. You know nothing about movies and the more you write the the more we get to know this fact.. save your money because I predict your job is on the chopping block..

DerekCabral
DerekCabral

Oh and do your homework he isn't a former wrestler he is a current wrestler the wwe champion to be exact! God your horrible

DerekCabral
DerekCabral

I agree your reviews suck lady, " hurts to watch like weight lifting at the summer Olympics " like who do you think you are I an many ppl I know love the weight lifting competition you come off as so snobby like ur view on the world is the end all be all. What makes u think your in the majority with weight lifting being hurtful to watch what a disgusting metaphor. You come off as not liking it simply because Dwayne is jacked and that grosses u out lol, horrible review!

hamcer_hill
hamcer_hill

I find more and more that your movie reviews are less critical and honestly much more on the mean side. You didn't like something so rather than stating what could be fixed you just say mean things behind your computer about the actors and or directors. You hit every movie that you don't like with some snarky comment that makes you seem witty and "above" the people that enjoy a movie like this. You are rude and make me ashamed to subscribe to TIME magazine.

shooting_star_11
shooting_star_11

The Rock acted the best that he could under the circumstances. He is a great actor and should be commended on his effort. I'm sure he knew the movie wasn't going to be good when they were filming it and he still stuck it out.