Iâ€™m supposed to be writing a review for "Snitch," the latest action thriller starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but thereâ€™s only one thing on my mind: a beard.
The tuft of hair belongs to Barry Pepper's chin, and it is admittedly mesmerizing. Itâ€™s a grungy-looking goatee that hangs two or three inches off Pepperâ€™s face and sharpens into a point. Every camera angle provides some new fascinating detail, and even when it seems the beard has worn out its welcome, Pepper ties it into a tight little ponytail for varietyâ€™s sake.
Pepperâ€™s mangy Van Dyke beard would be more at home in something like "True Grit" or "The Road." Iâ€™m more than thankful, however, that writer/director Ric Roman Waugh thought it was necessary because itâ€™s one of the only interesting things "Snitch" has to offer. Everything else is dull, drab and surprisingly preachy.
Johnson plays John Matthews, the ridiculously buff owner of a construction supply business and an all-around good guy. His fairly calm life takes a turn for the worse when his son Jason (Rafi Gavron) is mistakenly arrested in a drug sting with his friendâ€™s drugs and faces at least 10 years in prison thanks to the mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
The police offer to shorten Jasonâ€™s sentence if he helps them set up and arrest another dealer, but since heâ€™s not an actual dealer and not even really a user, he has no one to turn in. Plus, he doesnâ€™t want to set up an innocent guy â€“ like his friend did to him.
While Jason languishes in prison, Matthews volunteers to do the snitching in the place of his son. The election-minded U.S. Attorney (Susan Sarandon) takes the deal, and Matthews plots to entrap a local dealer (Michael K. Williams, Omar from "The Wire") with the reluctant help of one of his ex-con workers (Joe Bernthal from "The Walking Dead").
The desperate dadâ€™s plan might be too good, however, as he gets deep enough to start doing favors for a dangerous kingpin (Benjamin Bratt).
Much of "Snitch" plays as an indictment on the mandatory minimum laws and the sad realities of the countryâ€™s war on drugs. Every time we see Jason in prison â€“ with increasing amounts of bruising â€“ Antonio Pintoâ€™s score hammers on the sad violins, most of the government officials are uncooperative or self-serving and thereâ€™s a good deal of dialogue dedicated to the injustice of Jasonâ€™s sentencing.
I give Waugh and his co-writer Justin Haythe credit for attempting to give some weight to what appears to be a generic thriller, but the film is more noble than successful. The script simplifies the complicated mandatory minimum discussion into an unfortunately preachy sermon. A better look into the topic can be found in Eugene Jareckiâ€™s documentary "The House I Live In."
When it comes to the plot, the dialogue doesnâ€™t fare much better. It isnâ€™t offensively bad â€“ maybe a bit reliant on clichÃ©s Ââ€“ but itâ€™s lethally dull. Thereâ€™s no color or character to the conversations, which instead just drably move "Snitch" from scene to scene.
Waughâ€™s pacing aims for procedural drama, but it collides uncomfortably with the movieâ€™s Hollywoodization. I love Dwayne Johnson â€“ he has the charisma of Schwarzenegger combined with a touch of genuine acting talent â€“ but his role here isnâ€™t right for the former wrestling star. Itâ€™s hard to be convinced heâ€™s a vulnerable everyman in a realistic drama when his physicality and presence lords over every other character on screen. Brattâ€™s drug lord isnâ€™t much of a threat when Johnson looks like he could snap him in half without breaking a sweat.
Thatâ€™s not to say Johnson turns in a bad performance in "Snitch." Heâ€™s technically fine, but itâ€™s hard to find his effortless charisma underneath the characterâ€™s blandness and the filmâ€™s preachy importance. No one else in the cast fares much better except for Williams, who brings a slithery menace that reminds viewers why their friends keep pestering them to watch "The Wire."
Since it is a Johnson vehicle, there must inevitably be some action, too. Unfortunately, it doesnâ€™t happen until the last act and plays rather limply. Waugh is a believer in shaky cam, which makes the end freeway chase a typical mess of edits.
Worst of all, the action sequences feel entirely out of place with the rest of the film. Itâ€™s a silly shift from serious realistic drama to dumb overblown blow-â€˜em-up that fits as smoothly as a musical number at the end of "Zero Dark Thirty." A scene involving Johnson standing in front of rows of guns is one of the movieâ€™s biggest laughs, just because itâ€™s the official moment "Snitch" kisses reality goodbye and sets sail aboard the S.S. Ridiculous.
The film doesnâ€™t appear to have the confidence or conviction to follow through on its "true story" and instead goes for action movie heroics and a Hollywood ending.
Then again, the writersâ€™ conviction to the overall true story (originally reported by "Frontline") is pretty weak. James Settembrino is the real-life father, and his attempt to get his entrapped son out of prison featured no flipped semis. Settembrino had a drug bust set up with the government, but the arrangement fell through, and his son still served the time. So only about 15 minutes of "Snitch" is based on reality; the other 97 minutes are purely hypothetical.
Iâ€™d like to think Barry Pepperâ€™s beard was real though.Â
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