By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
In a really strange case of miscasting, actor Dwayne Johnson portrays an out- of- his element, wussy, but desperate father willing to do just about anything to get his son out of prison. Yes, seriously, the massive former wrestler-turned actor here plays John Matthews, a businessman who agrees to go undercover and aid the DEA in apprehending some major drug trafficking heavies, as part of a plea bargain to reduce his son Jason’s (Ravi Gavron) sentence. It is refreshing to see Johnson, a natural born actor with tremendous screen presence and charisma attempt more challenging and dramatic roles, but his turn as a whimpy every-man really challenges one’s suspension of disbelief.
This casting choice aside, Snitch is not a bad movie. In fact, the story has some superb moments of suspense and action, but does also have its share of lousy writing and melodramatic soap opera acting. Actually, I find it interesting that the last three films, I’ve had to review, including this one, have suffered from some of the same issues. It has felt like television quality movies have permeated the theaters, while television programs and movies, of cinematic quality (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead) have achieved more critical and popular success. I really hate to digress too much from the film under review, but as I analyze Snitch and some of the latest films opening in theaters, it has raised my awareness to the decline of the quality of films, and the fact that the movie studios still expect audiences to cough up big money despite this. Perhaps that could be the subject of a future article of mine. Until then, I should get off my soap box and return to the subject at hand, Snitch.
As stated above Jason Collins, in a case of poor adolescent judgment, gets himself arrested as part of a drug trafficking scheme. He has the opportunity to plea for a lesser sentence; however, that means he must name names and point his finger at some of his peers higher up on the drug food chain. When he refuses and is faced with ten years in prison, his father John agrees to use his trucking business to transport drugs across the border for a street thug of a dealer named Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams) so that the DEA can catch him in the act. However, things get more complicated and John gets in deeper when Mexican Kingpin, Juan Carlos Pintera (Benjamin Bratt), takes a liking to John.
Ric Roman Waugh directs (and co-writes with Justin Haythe) a compelling and thrilling film whose main flaws have to do with some scenes of cringeworthy writing and acting. Waugh proves himself as a director who can ably build tension and supense. A former stuntman, he also does some fine work in the action scenes. Another gripe I do have with the film has to do with the cinematography by Dana Gonzales. Snitch is another one of the films where shaky handheld camera work dominates and it definitely distracts. While the movie is based on actual events, the need for a documentary style of cinematography does not exist here. The film is not written that way. This style of camera work frustrates and irritates me to no end. Tripods, Steadicams, cranes, etc. serve specific purposes. More filmmakers need to use them.
In reference to the cringe-worthy acting, the main culprits are Melina Kanakaredes (Jason’s mother Sylvie), Nadine Velasquez (John’s wife Analisa), and Lela Loren (Vanessa). These lovely and attractive ladies, who have shown acting talent and proficiency in other work, unfortunately performed as if they were in a soap opera. I do realize that their scenes suffer from terrible writing, but their melodramatic deliveries in some emotionally charged scenes are a tad painful to watch. Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, does a fantastic job as Joanne Keegan, the ambitious politician willing to work with John in reducing his son’s sentence, but in her shrewdness has few qualms of putting him in great danger if it helps her rise in the political ranks.
I also rather enjoyed Barry Pepper who portrays DEA Agent Cooper and Michael Kenneth Williams who plays the local drug dealer, Malik. Rafi Gavron does a great job as Jason Collins, a teenager who is way in over his head because of this costly mistake. As for Johnson, the man can act, and besides looking out of place in this role, he does some first rate dramatic work.
If not for the writing, acting missteps and sloppy cinematography, this movie could have been a first rate action/thriller. Because it does have its excellent moments, I have decided to be a bit generous with my rating. Still, this and two other films I’ve seen recently are indicative of a decline in quality of theatrical features. Movies in theaters have begun to look like made for TV films and TV films and shows are beginning to look like they belong in theaters. Why should people pay top dollar for TV quality features, when they can easily view these for less money at home? Stay tuned, because I might just write that article/rant some time soon.