‘Snitch’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 3:40 am,

Snitch Dwayne Johnson Barry Pepper Snitch Review

It’s not the action movie that some viewers might have been expecting but that’s not a bad thing – since it delivers a surprisingly immersive character drama instead.

Snitch, the latest film from ex-stuntman turned director Ric Roman Waugh (Felon), follows a desperate father who will stop at nothing to free his innocent son from prison following a drug bust. On the surface, the film intersperses character drama with understated action set pieces but Waugh also spends a significant amount of the run time addressing federal drug laws that entrap first offenders and dole out extra-lengthy sentences.

Following a draft by Revolutionary Road screenwriter, Justin Haythe (who also penned The Lone Ranger), Waugh rewrote the Snitch script and then cast Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for the film’s lead. Known for testosterone-heavy action flicks (along with campy kid-friendly adventures), Johnson’s presence might cause moviegoers to assume that Snitch places action before character; however, Waugh delivers a much more subtle film – which is to the movie’s overall credit but might come as a disappointment to fans that were hoping to see an over-the-top thriller.

For the most part, Snitch is successful in its ambitions. There are a few explosions and intense gun fights but, overall, the movie is focused on drama and social criticism. The majority of the plot exists in a moral grey area – allowing a unique look at character tropes that audiences will have seen time and time again on screen: the naive father in over his head, an ex-con trying to do right by his family, and a tough-as-nails Federal Prosecutor who priorities politics over people. In spite of some familiar elements, the moment to moment interactions in Snitch are intriguing enough for viewers to invest in (and believe) the core storyline of a man that sacrifices his safety (as well as the safety of others) in order to protect his family.

Rafi Gavron Snitch Snitch Review

Rafi Gavron as Jason Collins in ‘Snitch’

Snitch makes liberal use of “based on true events” branding, as the events are almost entirely fictional – with only the actual laws serving as the basis for the film. When suburban teenager, Jason (Rafi Gavron), makes a naive but life-changing mistake and gets arrested on charges of attempted narcotics sales, his father, John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), makes a desperate plea with federal prosecutor, Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon). In exchange for reducing his son’s sentence, John offers to go undercover and lead the police to actual drug dealers. The only problem? John doesn’t know any drug dealers and – after a failed solo-attempt – he turns to one of his employees, Daniel (Jon Bernthal), an ex-con attempting to get his life together, for an introduction into the world of narcotic sales.

Despite a headlining role for Johnson, the federal drug laws are the real star of the film, with nearly every single character and situation built around the core set-up. Of course, not every family will be able to go undercover for a federal narcotics task force and, despite the spotlight that Waugh places on imperfect drug enforcement laws, the film fails to present any real-life answers. Instead, Waugh presents a series of interesting interactions that arbitrarily dance from on-the-nose social commentary to a more ambiguous moral plane that allows for viewers to make up their own minds. As a result, the plot follows a relatively standard progression with few surprises but absorbing subject matter and characters (as well as subsequent drama) are enough to keep things engaging even when the backdrop starts to look familiar.

Johnson’s portrayal of John Matthews is admirable – with a tenderness and subtlety that might surprise film fans who are less familiar with the actors full breadth of work. That said, Johnson’s larger-than-life physical presence can be a distraction in certain scenes – especially when the movie routinely asks viewers to accept that Matthews isn’t capable of defending himself at all. To counteract Johnson’s size, Matthews is a mix of likable recklessness and relatable apprehension; however, at times, the performance breaks down and audiences will see the actor pushing an intentionally weak persona – instead of relying on delicate nuance.

Dwayne Johnson Michael Kenneth Williams Snitch Snitch Review

Dwayne Johnson and Michael Kenneth Williams in ‘Snitch’

This isn’t to say that Johnson can only step into macho tough guy roles but, in Snitch, there is a noticeable disconnect between characterization and onscreen depiction that will definitely test suspension of disbelief on occasion. It’s calculated risk/reward casting because the script doesn’t benefit from a muscle-bound action star, and Waugh’s choice to cast Johnson can be distracting, but the actor’s performance is solid and a major credit to the success of the movie.

The supporting cast is full of familiar faces (and characters) that don’t stray too far from convention but serve the main storyline with respectable competence. Jon Bernthal, known best for his role as Shane on AMC’s The Walking Dead, is a standout with an understated but powerful performance as Daniel that outshines a number of the more accomplished veterans in the cast. Barry Pepper offers another engaging turn, this time as drug task force leader Agent Cooper – easily one of the more interesting additions in the film. Conversely, Susan Sarandon and Benjamin Bratt are only provided with cliche one-note characters that primarily act as exposition machines – with few rewarding overtones.

As indicated before, Johnson’s appearance in Snitch will lead many moviegoers to assume that the film is action fare – and those viewers will likely walk away underwhelmed. Despite a few brief gunfights and one over-the-top car chase, the film’s primary tension comes from low-key moments that teeter on real life danger – where one minor slip of the tongue could mean the difference between life or death for Matthews and his family. In fact, some of the greatest scenes of tension in Snitch are the result of nothing happening – and the fear that unresolved danger leaves in its wake.

Jon Bernthal Snitch Snitch Review

Jon Bernthal as Daniel James in ‘Snitch’

Snitch has lofty ambitions – moving quickly between on-the-nose commentary, captivating interpersonal drama, and brief scenes of competent action. Waugh does not successfully payoff every element introduced in the movie – leaving a lot of overarching themes and moral questions dangling in the air. Still, scene to scene Snitch is a smart drama that uses solid performances and an emotional story to cast light on controversial subject matter. It’s not the action movie that some viewers might have been expecting but that’s not a bad thing – since it delivers a surprisingly immersive character drama instead.

If you’re still on the fence about Snitch, check out the trailer below:

[poll id=”539″]

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Snitch runs 112 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for drug content and sequences of violence. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

Follow Ben Kendrick on Twitter @benkendrick
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  1. Good write up Ben. Enjoying reading your reviews. I might actually check this out now. It looked like it could have gone either way but ill probably check it out this weekend. Also I’m a Jon bernthal fan. Suprised he’s not in more things.

    • Cheers! Glad it’s helpful and hope you enjoy the movie!

      • hes actually in the new Marin Scorsese Film with Leo Coming out

  2. i was expecting to see this regardless of the reviews, Im a Rock fan, and i was actually expecting like 2 stars from screenrant just based on the trailers, but seeing 3 stars is great!

  3. Don’t get excited … this is pure crap.

    I gave it 1 star.

    The story is badly written, the action scenes are week … badly shot.

    If they wanted to make a type of 70’s B movie they should say so …

    Poor Rock he deserves better.

  4. Letting investors make bets on a movie’s future box office receipts would have many bookmakers…er, brokers…”laying off” on this one.

    Dwayne Johnson in a low-key dramatic performance is a welcome change of pace and one that would seem inevitable. But his size is an issue when we see a man going through fear, hatred, guilt, rage and violence yet appearing to be more Clark Kent than Superman.

    “Nuance”, as pointed out, was incredibly overlooked.

  5. Ben, one correction, she wasn’t a state prosecutor, she was a federal prosecutor…

    I did get a little annoyed at the fact that Matthews seemed so easy to get pushed around when he’s like 90% muscle… But I really liked his character in that he wasn’t one of those parents that would blindly stand up for their kids even when they are guilty of a crime. He wanted his son to be punished and taught a lesson for his crime, but when he found out how unreasonable it was, of course he did what any reasonable parent would want to do.

    What irks me a little bit is how this movie has sparked a conversation over the drug laws. People are making it seem like we need to go easier on drug offense punishment because they are more than that for rape, manslaughter, and other crimes. I agree that the way it is set up in that nobody can exercise discretion in the minimum sentence is pretty dumb, but at the same time, shouldn’t we want to INCREASE the punishment for rape and the other crimes so they are more fitting for the crime instead of just decreasing the sentence for drug crime? Seriously, how can someone convicted of rape get less than 10 years in prison???

    • Cheers! I was wondering about that when I was writing the review but couldn’t find any official info for that specific detail.

  6. Just got back from seeing Snitch and got to say it was a great movie. Yeah the camera was a tad bit annoying at times but after I started focusing on the story I rarely noticed it after that. I was expecting this movie to be good and it went past my expectations. It was not pure crap as someone stated above. To each their own though. This was easily one of Rock’s best acting jobs yet in my honest opinion. I gave it a 5.

  7. this seems ot have a similar feel then that of dwayne’s other movie driver (i think it was called), in the sense that the action took a back seat for a decent story. i dont mind so much b/c a lot of these action stars gets a lot of trash b/c people seem to think action star = someone capable of doing nothing more then being able to jump through windows and pretend to know how to fire a gun 😛

    i’ll get my action kick from him when i watch gijoe and the new fast and furious since both put action in front of narrative.

  8. Ok look, i read the first two paragraphs of the review. There is no way in hell you can think it is an action movie when The Rock isn’t shooting at the bad guys (drug dealers) or doing anything thats against the law. That’s action. It is a drama when The Rock is trying to get his son out of jail and I can’t be missing nothing of the movie, can I? I didn’t see it. From looking at things about the film it is a drama for sure.
    I agree with the review above.

  9. Those who are saying it’s a bad movie: know your role and shut your mouth.. It doesn’t matter what you think.. ^|-

  10. I gave the movie 5 stars. I am a big fan of “The Rock” I always have been, but I didn’t really think the movie was going to be as good as it was from seeing the preview. The movie was great an it didn’t lose my attention at all during the whole view. I think I liked it because it was something you could relate to. I have recommended the movie to all my family, and friends. Jon keep up the good work.

  11. The fact that Susan Sarandon is in a flim with the Rock is ridiculous, it would be like Al Gore in a movie with Stallone. IT DOSEN’T WORK!! It was obviously done the push the liberal agenda of relaxing federal drug laws. I have always been a fan or the ROCK, but I would like to think he had no input on casting Sarandon but I doubt that’s the case. She all to eager to get in her punches when she can. Notice how she played a hard ass bigoted republican prosecutor, ya cause their all that way. They referred to her as the dragon lady. Just another pathetic, thinly vailed attempt by Hollywood to spew its garbage. I thought the rock wasn’t a puppet, but I guess I was wrong.