This weekend, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson begins his season-long domination of the box office with “Snitch,” a suspenseful crime thriller based on true events.
In the film, Johnson plays John Matthews, a working stiff who hasn’t had much time for his son ever since a nasty divorce. But when his kid gets arrested for drug possession, Matthews must do whatever it takes to help him out. When he learns that his boy will be going to jail for a mandatory minimum of ten years — unless he can hand over the identities of additional drug dealers — Matthews strikes an unusual bargain with a U.S. attorney (played by Susan Sarandon) to do the dirty work himself and rat out the dangerous criminals.
So how does the movie stack up? Moviefone breaks down the pros and cons of “Snitch.”
(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!)
PRO: It’s Pretty Good, Actually
The Rock’s acting career has been a mixed bag of guilty pleasures and B-movies wrapped in blockbuster packaging. “Snitch” is probably Johnson’s most dramatic role yet, giving him a chance to sidestep any “action hero” corniness. The plot is tightly paced and filled with genuinely suspenseful moments; as John Matthews gets pulled deeper and deeper into the world of drug cartels, you do lose yourself in the story’s twists, giving them a real “Oh sh*t” factor (even when you know a hulking good-guy like the Rock is going to end up a-ok.)
CON: It’s No “Training Day”
“Snitch” is a solid, enjoyable thriller, but don’t expect a nail-biting tour de force of cinema on par with classics like “The Departed,” “Rush,” or “Donnie Brasco.” Some elements of the story are implausible (like how a U.S. Attorney would easily let some random dad go undercover), but it’s so briskly paced that the filmmakers move past those hokey moments as soon as possible, with the cast delivering each plot twist with effective believability.
PRO: It’s Not a Mindless Action Film
If you go into this because you’re in the mood for gun battles and explosions, you’re going to be disappointed. There’s a grand total of two big action scenes here. But by the time they hit, you’ve become so invested in Matthews’ crazy plan that the escalation in violence feels meaningful. Rock’s father-figure character doesn’t immediately turn into a bad-ass who can fire off infinite rounds of ammo; the action plays out in an authentic fashion because the script has done a good job at conveying the desperation of a normal man. And the movie’s conclusion delivers on the loud, explosive spectacle — it is a well-directed, well-earned finale.
CON: The Rock is Kind of Distracting
He does a good job at playing an ordinary father thrown into an extraordinary situation… but the Rock doesn’t look ordinary. Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, the muscle-bound stature makes him seem superhuman, to the point of distraction. You can’t help but sit there waiting for him to go into “G.I. Joe” mode and just start wrecking everybody. It’s great to see Johnson continuously push himself with a variety acting projects and not just rest on his “punch ’em up” laurels, but you have to wonder how the movie would have played out with a more average-looking actor in the part.
PRO: Michael K. Williams and Jon Bernthal
The entire supporting cast is good (especially Barry Pepper as a grizzled DEA Agent), but a special note needs to be made for Williams and Bernthal. If you’ve seen Bernthal as Shane on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” or watched Williams earn critical acclaim on both “The Wire” (as Omar Little) and “Boardwalk Empire” (as Chalky White), you already know that they are two of the most underrated character actors on TV. When given a theatrical platform like this, both stars steal the show. As an ex-con father struggling to reform, who unwittingly gets duped into Matthews’ scheme, Bernthal evokes real sympathy, and the unsure fate of his character creates some of the movie’s tensest scenes. And Williams’ turn as Malik, the two-bit drug dealer that drags John Matthews down into his world, is genuinely terrifying. Through sheer presence, he’s able to believably intimidate Matthews and push him around, even in spite of the Rock’s imposing, jacked physique.
“Snitch” opens on Friday, February 22.
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