Movie review: Snitch
A father who infiltrates the underworld of drugs gets off scot-free, and so does his son
Posted: April 10, 2013
He's got his eye on you. The Rock plays a family man who gets roped into the world of narcotics.
Films' politics are often revealed not in the presentation of the story but in the epilogue that serves to hit home one last time the injustice of the events we've just seen onscreen - in case we missed just how terrible it all is and what wider misery it really represents.
In Snitch, a film in which a father's love for his son drives him to go undercover and expose a drug dealer so that his son - a first offender who accepted a parcel containing a whole bag full of illegal pills from his best friend - can walk free, those politics are not objectionable, but it sadly cannot pull the film from oblivion.
That the father is played by Dwayne Johnson, better known by his wrestling moniker "The Rock," probably doesn't help much to connect us to this important character.
Johnson plays the role of the square-jawed John Matthews, a man whose construction company in Missouri is doing well but whose focus on his professional life has sunk his marriage, leaving his son and ex-wife to live in a simple house on the other side of town.
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh
With Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper
His son, Jason, gets talked into accepting some pills on behalf of his best friend, and in a moment of carelessness he goes along with the plan - he's 19 years old and wants to experiment, we learn.
But he gets caught the moment he signs for the package and a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison hangs like a sword over his head. Poor Jason doesn't have many friends, is still scarred from his parents' divorce, and when his father visits him in prison it is very clear some creepy individuals have already taken a liking to him.
All of this is too much for The Rock to handle, and he goes to the cold-hearted but politically ambitious district attorney's office in the hope she can secure his son's release and in the process ingratiate herself with certain parts of the electorate who see this spinster as anti-family.
In this capacity, Susan Sarandon, who currently stars as a mother and a wife torn by duty and family in the outstanding Arbitrage (reviewed in last week's edition of The Prague Post), acquits herself brilliantly of the role she is handed.
But it is another actor that shines more than anyone else in this film: Jon Bernthal as the cool but conflicted Daniel James, a former drug dealer who is now employed at Matthews' construction company and whom Matthews promises to pay if he facilitates an introduction into the underworld of narcotics trafficking.
Matthews' decision to hire James as a middleman inevitably leads to trouble, as James becomes another snitch (Matthews is the most obvious first choice for this title) of the title without knowing it, and that sort of thing is not looked upon kindly in the criminal world. Matthews doesn't tell him what he is doing, thus endangering his life while possibly leading to the release of Matthews' son. What could have been a moral conundrum for the viewer (whose side should we take?), however, turns into frustration as we are supposed to go along with all of Matthews' excessively selfish decisions.
And that is where the film's epilogue comes in. Snitch is based on real events, we are told even before the opening credits, but before the end credits roll we read that the current sentence for first-time offenders who deal in narcotics is much stricter than for those who commit heinous crimes like rape and child abuse.
Of course, this news is something to get upset about, and politically the drug issue has been one of the U.S. government's biggest running fiascos - not because the operation has been a failure, which it certainly has, but because people who use drugs for personal use are targeted and so much taxpayer money is spent on prosecuting these individuals instead of roads being built or debt paid off.
Whether or not you agree with the politics, however, Matthews' stubborn behavior, which includes him apparently ditching his own company in order to do a two-day drug run, is annoying. Credibility is stretched to breaking point, since confidence seems to spring eternal for Matthews, who somehow manages to act calmly and intelligently whenever he speaks to a drug lord, without the slightest hint (in public or in private) of fear or second-guessing. Such a depiction leads us to read him not as a human being, but as some kind of superhero who doesn't belong in a film making grandiose statements about drug policy in the real world.
The telephone conversations between Matthews and his son are full of cringe, but luckily the film does end with a proper car chase and shootout along the highway somewhere in Texas.
Snitch is a rather forgettable film that tries to be relevant by pushing its politics but never pulls us in.
André Crous can be reached at