At the beginning of Snitch you'll be told it was inspired by actual events. That's true, to a limit. Yes, a man's son was wrongly accused of selling drugs after a friend set him up. As a result, the kid faced the ten year mandatory minimum for the federal crime, though he was offered a deal to help the government rack up some more convictions and decrease his sentence. He declined.
"Snitch" is a Summit Entertainment release, directed by Ric Roman Waugh and is rated PG-13 for drug content and sequences of violence. The running time is .
The cast includes Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, Benjamin Bratt, Nadine Velazquez, Jon Bernthal, Harold Perrineau Jr., Michael K. Williams, Melina Kanakaredes and Richard Cabral.
From there the film and the true story radically part ways as writer/director (and one-time stuntman) Ric Roman Waugh (co-written by Justin Haythe) does his best to tell a measured dramatic thriller, but measured becomes "drawn out" as the pacing of this piece is unfortunately uneven. You can almost feel the film trying to contain itself, holding back rather than becoming the action film the trailers suggest. But if that was the goal why in the world did they cast Dwayne Johnson?
Why cast an ex-professional wrestler to star as an everyman, particularly when his talents don't exactly lend well to restrained drama. Here you have a hulk of a man whom you'd think was cast to play the role of a Rambo-esque character who will tear down the cartel or whatever else it might take to get his son out of jail. Yet, Johnson is noticeably reigned in as if held back by chains. As much as I like the guy as a charismatic action star, his rigid, action figure posture and performance just isn't cut out for this character.
As a result, Snitch pulls a fast one on your expectations and while that can work for a film, here it suffers. I'd typically applaud the decision to avoid the trappings of the one man wrecking crew genre and play it against type, but this is one role out of Johnson's reach. Had someone like Paul Giamatti been cast, maybe we'd have something to talk about.
Johnson plays the anxious father, John Matthews, who makes a deal with the D.A. (Susan Sarandon) that he'll use his trucking business to set up a local drug dealer (Michael K. Williams) in exchange for a reduction on his son's sentence. The story begins to slow once he needs the help of an ex-convict employee ("The Walking Dead" star Jon Bernthal, who's quite good) along with the fact John and his wife (Melina Kanakaredes) are separated, providing the standard, cliche narrative results.
As you'd expect, John soon finds himself in too deep, but it's too late to turn back now, and all of it is delivered at such a snail's pace I'm quite confident had 30 minutes or so been excised you'd have a much better film. As it is, at 112 minutes, we're talking about a film long enough to skip any and all action hero theatrics and tell the actual story (read about it here), getting into the dirty details, rather than escalating the picture to a ho-hum action scene and text on the screen before rolling the credits.
Snitch just plays too fast and loose with the details, particularly when it comes to the reasons for extending the narrative. I get the fact there is a point in asking the audience what good is really being done and who are the "real" bad guys -- the drug dealers or the greedy, headline-grabbing politicians -- but it all comes off as an action movie brought down by faux drama.
I did like Antonio Pinto's score and Waugh's direction was more restrained than I expected, but editing issues (one minute a location is 1,000 miles away, the next it's just a quick trip around the corner) and a camera that can't sit still are quite frustrating.
Fortunately, a few performances elevate the film and keep you watching, one being Williams as the drug dealer Malik and another being Barry Pepper as a weathered DEA agent, even though his character makes a decision midway through the film that sends it spiraling toward mediocrity while stretching out the run time. Rafi Gavron also does well as the film's convincing troubled youth.
Snitch isn't a bad film, it's a "watch it once at home" kind of movie. It's too long for its own good and it's trying too hard to be something it's not with a leading man that simply isn't... at least not here.