Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Drama Movie Review of ‘Snitch’ (2013)

Movie Review of ‘Snitch’ (2013)

If you come to 2013’s Snitch expecting a fun action fiesta which makes good use of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s brand of charisma and machismo, this picture will disappoint. The marketing is a tad misleading, as this is more of a father-son crime-drama, more concerned with family dramatics than big pyrotechnics. It’s a tempting offer, but the execution is lacklustre despite solid production values, with stuntman-turned-director Ric Roman Waugh unsuitable for outright drama while The Rock is ill-suited for the role of an Average Joe. Snitch actually opens with the “Based on a true story” caption, though we’ve grown to take such claims with a massive grain of salt.

Agreeing to receive a delivery of ecstasy, 18-year-old Jason (Rafi Gavron) is promptly arrested and sent to prison, awaiting sentencing which could result in the college-bound lad being locked up for a decade. Jason refuses to be a snitch in order to get his sentence reduced, so his estranged father John (Johnson) cuts a deal with federal prosecutor Joanne Keegan (Susan Sarandon). If John goes undercover and aids in the arrest of a drug dealer, Jason will face less prison time. With the help of ex-con Daniel (The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal), John finds himself becoming involved with local crime lord Malik (The Wire‘s Michael K. Williams). John proves his worth in transporting drugs, impressing major drug kingpin El Topo (Benjamin Bratt). As the stakes continue to increase, DEA Agent Cooper (Barry Pepper) grows wary of the outcome.

Snitch wants to be a dense crime picture like The Departed, but it lacks the sophistication to make it soar. The story is painted in broad strokes of black and white, with the good guys all noble while the drug traffickers are pure cartoons. It should have grit and surprise, with this grimy drug-fuelled world full of horrific details and devious players. Instead, Snitch is a simplified television movie. It uses a number of familiar action movie clichés as well, with unrealistically streamlined politics (it ends too abruptly and easily) and preposterous moments (turns out Everyman John is a great driver and a decent marksman who can outsmart drug cartels and the DEA). This type of stuff is fine and forgivable in action films since they’re fun and are not meant to be taken seriously, but such tosh in an agenda-oriented drama is hard to swallow. Snitch is an action film without the mindless fun, and a message movie without the depth.

Admittedly, the look of Snitch is commendable, portraying this unsavoury world with unrelenting grimness. But the cinematography is extremely poor, leaning too hard on irritating shaky-cam and camera placements far too close to the action. It honestly feels like the picture has been zoomed-in after-the-fact at times, and the cameramen keep suffering epileptic fits even while filming small dialogue moments. More bothersome is the pursuit of a PG-13 rating, which detracts a crucial sense of threat and makes this world less gruesome than it should be. Snitch‘s plot required a tougher treatment to make it work. As it is, it’s generic and bland. Still, there are some moments that work, including a pretty impressive finale, and the technical contributions are solid for the most part, the nauseating photography notwithstanding.

By putting Johnson in a dramatic role, the filmmakers were not playing to the actor’s strengths. He’s a movie star and a distinguished screen presence rather than a nuanced performer, and he makes sense as a hulking mass of muscle who kicks ass and takes names. Here, he does exude a degree of charisma, and he seems committed enough to the material, but he’s not believable, especially when a few street punks manage to beat him to the ground with zero effort. The rest of the cast is decent, though. Sarandon is particularly good due to how hammy she is, rendering her scenes some of the most entertaining in the picture.

As Waugh closes the film, he condemns the first-offence prison sentences in the United States, but doesn’t specify who we are supposed to be angry with. The laws? The policy makers? The federal prosecutors? The judges? The parents? Or the idiotic kid who decides to accept a massive bag of drugs in his mother’s home, and sign for the package as well using his real name? Snitch wants to deliver a profound message amid its dramatics, yet it doesn’t possess the complexity to register as anything more than meaningless entertainment. And as meaningless entertainment, the film comes up short due to how solemn it is.


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