‘Snitch‘ begins when middle-class 18 year old Jason (Rafi Gavron) agrees to accept a giant box of ecstasy tablets sent to him via FedEx from a dumbass friend. Now he’s facing a harsh mandatory minimum sentence unless he gives up another name to the Feds. Problem is, the one guy he knows in the drug trade is the one who snitched on him, so he’s got no room to negotiate. But not so fast – his father is Dwayne Johnson.
Crime doesn’t pay. It’ll just make you feel bad when your parents have to jump through all sorts of crazy hoops to rescue your ass.
I specifically say ‘Snitch’ stars Dwayne Johnson and not “The Rock” because Dad doesn’t come barreling in busting heads – at least not at first. Johnson, divorced from the kid’s mother, is a successful businessman with political connections. He’s able to get a sitdown with Susan Sarandon, the federal prosecutor running for Congress. (‘Snitch’ takes pains to show that his wealth, so frequently a signifier of movie doucheyness, doesn’t apply here; he steps out of his enormous SUV to help a lowly worker load a truck full of heavy bags because that’s what good guys do!)
Sarandon explains that mandatory minimums are essential in the War on Drugs – no exceptions, even if someone can’t (or won’t) take the disproportionate prison term as incentive to cough up some names. Johnson realizes that the only way he can save his son is to somehow produce a drug trafficker in exchange.
After an unsuccessful first attempt (e.g. a drive through the “bad part of town”) Johnson puts the screws to one of his employees, an ex-con (the same guy he helped, surprisingly, played by ‘The Walking Dead‘s’ Jon Bernthal) and next thing you know they are in a poorly furnished home with sheets over the window where loud hip-hop plays and Omar from ‘The Wire’ (really!) sits at a large empty desk adorned solely with a pistol.
It doesn’t take long for Johnson to earn everyone’s trust (he is charismatic after all) but soon he’s in too deep. Benjamin Bratt, known only as El Topo, sets him up for a suicide run and Barry Pepper, sporting some outrageous facial hair, is the DEA agent assigned to him. With the walls closing in Johnson must become The Rock saddle-up in a giant truck with a shotgun in hand.
As an “average man over his head” thriller, ‘Snitch’ isn’t bad. As a finger-pointing look at Draconian drug laws, ‘Snitch’ sticks mainly to the broad strokes. Subtle it isn’t (the maudlin dialogue inspired snickers multiple times) but as a first “real movie” from the former wrestler-turned-Scorpion King-turned-Vin Diesel foe, ‘Snitch’ plays it straight and races through the soap opera family scenes quickly. I doubt anyone thought they were working on a masterpiece and I can say, with all sincerity, that ‘Snitch’ is not bad.
Postscript: the movie opens with a resonant “inspired by a true story” card. This couldn’t be bigger hauled truckload of crap. The filmmakers were, indeed, inspired to make a movie dealing with the issues of mandatory minimums after seeing a ‘Frontline’ episode from 1999 called “Snitch.” There was, indeed, a case of a “good kid” that, at a very young age, got hit with a ten year sentence. Either unwilling or unable to rat someone out, the father looked into finding someone to bust on his own. He even had DEA agents on board. After some false starts and losing thousands of dollars, the arrangement eventually fizzled. So that’s how “true” the movie ‘Snitch’ is. It is the overblown conjecture of what could have happened. It doesn’t really alter the merits of the film, but is something of an obnoxious move on behalf of the producers.‘Snitch’ opens in theaters on February 22.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.