May 14th 2013 03:35
The incongruous sight of Susan Sarandon in an action vehicle for The Rock notwithstanding, there’s little in the way of novelty in Snitch. Unless you exclude the fact of Dwayne Johnson, a now ubiquitous and strangely magnetic screen presence, holding his own against the Oscar winning thespian who seems to be loitering in unforgivingly marginalised roles these days. As a noble man ensnared by sinister circumstances that push him to physically and mentally punishing extremes to protect his family, Johnson simply revels whilst Sarandon flounders in a cardboard cut-out portrayal.
There’s not a great deal of complexity in former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh’s latest film. Though social commentary about the less culpable victims of America’s war on drugs tends to sustain the narrative in a way that’s mildly didactic but palatable for audiences who can’t help rooting for the innocent even when they’re guilty.
Johnson’s John Matthews is one of those absentee father figures, having moved on to a second marriage and the raising of another child who naturally takes precedence in his life. The impressions we receive of these facts are consolidated in a scant scene or two and are perfunctory to say the least. When son Jason (Rafi Gavron) stupidly accepts a package sent to him by a trusted friend, the feds are there to pounce and so he’s tossed into a cauldron of legal complications that strip him of the liberty he’s taken for granted. His mother Sylvie (a suitably anguished Melina Kanakaredes) and father are confused by the system that can claim their ‘good boy’ and outraged by the harshness of his potential punishment.
Matthews is not one to sit and stew over his family’s plight however and decides to take matters into his own hands. He goes undercover and bringing down a drug cartel with only the reluctant aid of a former crim on his staff, Daniel (a fine Jon Bernthal), a federal prosecutor (Sarandon) and a totally unconvincing cop, (Barry Pepper whose implausible appearance may be part of a dare we the audience are not privy to).
Waugh’s film is, refreshingly, far less action-oriented than the trailers would have us believe. Rather, Snitch (2013) is about the rupturing of a typical family unit and the penalties we face for simple errors of judgement. Of course it’s also a dramatized illustration – inspired by ‘true events’ in case you were wondering – of the specious inequalities that see those on the lowest rungs of the ladder having their fingernails stripped off.
Johnson may not be the finest actor to grace the silver screen but there’s something eminently watchable about him and because of that Snitch is an enjoyable enough entertainment. It doesn’t aim high and delivers on it meagre promise. Johnson’s indomitable physical presence, bravado and predilection for choosing roles that flatter men of action do him little disservice. He’s clearly fulfilling the brief Hollywood executives have set out for him and doing so with his dignity intact.