“Snitch” is a movie that knows what it wants to say, but fails to get its message across in an unconventional fashion. The film is loosely based on a “Frontline” documentary about Joey Settembrino, an 18 year old who was sentenced to a minimum of ten years in prison for selling LSD. The government offered Joey a reduced sentence in exchange for the names of drug dealers high up on the totem pole. Since Joey was unwilling to cooperate, he had no other alternative but to serve his time. James Settembrino, Joey’s father, did everything he could by independently digging up dirt on drug abusers and drug distributors. His attempts to free his son were futile for the most part though.
Somewhat like the real story, “Snitch” starts out with a promising young man who gets mixed up in the drug business. In this fictionalized version he’s named Jason and played by Rafi Gavron. After he receives some drugs in the mail, Jason is caught by the cops and given the standard decade-long sentence. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is John Matthews, Jason’s estranged father, who manages a successful construction company and lives in a big house with a new family. Wanting to do right by his son, John decides to go undercover and help take down a drug cartel. This is where “Snitch” essentially gives up on representing the actual events and becomes a predictable Hollywood movie with the occasional shootout and truck chase.
While the content may be straightforward, the actors still give it their all. Susan Sarandon is coldly unsympathetic as a DEA who only cares about convictions and gives little thought to the people she’s putting away. Character actor Jon Bernthal gives one of his most effective performances as an ex-con trying to do good, but gets sucked into John’s undercover operation. Also a ton of fun is Michael Kenneth Williams, the master of playing African American street thugs. At this point, Williams might as well just permanently change his name to Omar Little.
The only performer that feels out of place is unfortunately Dwayne Johnson, who has been trying to make the leap from professional wrestler, to action star, to “serious actor.” To be fair, Johnson’s performance really isn’t that bad. It’s simply a case of miscasting. His character is supposed to be an average father who hopelessly finds himself in the midst of a dangerous, life-threatening situation. The problem is that you never buy Johnson as a vulnerable, everyday guy, you just see the Scorpion King. But at least he’s more believable in a sincere, dramatic role than Hulk Hogan.
The main dilemma with “Snitch” is that it pays too much attention to John’s dynamics with the authorities and drug dealers, pretty much ignoring his family life. The audience barely gets to know John’s ex-wife, his new wife, or little daughter, all of whom are reduced to just crying and complaining. Even Jason’s time on screen is limited, although Gavron does turn out a powerful acting job. There was potential here for a touching, honest story about broken families and unjust incarceration. These themes are lost however, in a repetitive narrative that never amounts to anything more than a routine crime thriller. It’s not surprising that Director/Co-writer Ric Roman Waugh decided to go down action route since he has mainly worked as a stunt man in the past. But his film is just too commercial and generic for us to really care about any of the underdeveloped characters or the worthwhile message.
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com
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