Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson goes undercover as a cartel drug runner in order to spring his son from prison in this serious, crime action/drama.
For something as surprisingly straight-faced as this movie is, it turned out to be decently entertaining. I doubt that it will prompt audiences to call out for more dramatic roles for Johnson, but he certainly acquits himself adequately here and provides us with a watchable, entertaining flick.
When young Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron) signs for a package containing a massive quantity of Ecstasy, he finds himself snared in federal sting operation. Due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, he winds up facing at least ten years in prison… potentially thirty.
His father, John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) can’t stomach the thought of his son spending that much of his life in jail, so, in desperation, he arranges a personal meeting with the federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) in order to discuss some kind of alternative. As she explains the situation, Matthews realizes there’s nothing she will do unless she somehow gets an even bigger drug figure in exchange. Matthews proposes going undercover himself, in his son’s stead, in order to apprehend someone who would satisfy the conditions, but he’s turned down.
Undeterred, he goes ahead with the plan anyways, obtaining a contact into the world of drug smuggling from an employee of his at his shipping company.
Left with no options, the Prosecutor signs off on Matthews plan. If he can implicate a drug dealer with a substantial enough possession charge, she’ll free his son. The one thing they didn’t count on, however, was Matthews doing his job too well. When his initial run leads him all the way to a high level cartel connection, the Prosecutor wants to revise the deal, and the stakes get raised for everyone involved.
The first item of note about “Snitch” is that it is not an action film. Yes, there’s action involved, especially in Matthew’s climactic run, but for the most part, “Snitch” is a serious crime drama. The film establishes the son’s relative innocence, shows how brutal jail would be on him, and shows how hard it would be on The Rock to watch that happen. They also show the home life and backstory of Jon Bernthal’s character, the worker who risks everything to help him make the initial undercover connection. So you’re given the motivations behind what these two men are doing, and given reasons to care about their characters. Once the stakes for the heroes are established, Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar!!) and Benjamin Bratt provide the menace as the drug lords that need to be taken down.
And surprisingly, the film is effective. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of “Yeah, right” opportunities, but those are overcome by a decent cast and a relatively tense story. Johnson does a decent enough job of playing a stand up guy willing to put his life on the line in order to save his son from prison, and he’s helped by excellent supporting players in Jon Bernthal, Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar!!), and Barry Pepper (as an undercover agent who assists). Together they add enough credibility to what could be seen as a thin action movie plot in support of a stretch of a high concept. There are definitely tension filled scenes with Johnson undercover, and a fun (if a bit far-fetched) action finale.
In the end, “Snitch” turned out to be a fun watch, even if it does require some extra suspension of disbelief.