Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal, Michael K. Williams
Rated: PG-13, for drug content and sequences of violence
Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Bottom line: Entertaining but forgettable actioner
“Snitch” offers one of the oddest casting pairings we’ve seen for a while. I never thought I’d see Dwayne Johnson and Susan Sarandon sharing the screen together in an action movie, but surprisingly, it ends up making sense.
“Snitch” is a tightly scripted thriller, but it also has a sneaky political agenda.
Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron) is pressured by one of his friends into allowing a package of ecstasy (or more properly MDMA) to be delivered to his house. Jason is no drug dealer, but he reluctantly agrees because he and his girlfriend are curious to try it.
The package arrives and Jason can’t resist opening it. As soon as he does, though, he discovers a tracking device. Federal Drug Enforcement Agents raid the house and Jason is arrested for possession and intent to distribute, a federal crime that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years.
This is the movie’s political agenda, to question the justice and effectiveness of mandatory minimums for first-time drug offenses. While the film isn’t exactly subtle about it (two title cards with statistics and a link to an activist website precede the closing credits), it doesn’t beat us over the head about it, either.
Nor is the filmmakers’ position outside of the mainstream. There is a growing chorus of Americans who criticize the so-called “Rockefeller Drug Laws,” the draconian drug punishment statutes that began in New York but have become the norm throughout the U.S.
The movie’s inclusion of this political dialogue has two effects. First, it is likely what drew Sarandon to the project in the first place. And second, it lends the picture a sense of gravity it wouldn’t otherwise have.
The only way to reduce Jason’s sentence is to cooperate and help the DEA arrest someone else. Jason doesn’t know any actual drug dealers or traffickers, though.
So Jason’s dad, John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), decides to take matters into his own hands. John owns a construction company, and one of his employees, Daniel James (Jon Bernthal), happens to be an ex-con who served five years for narcotics trafficking.
John bribes Daniel into introducing him to one of his old associates, a local dealer named Malik (Michael K. Williams).
John offers to use one of his company’s semi-trailer trucks to move Malik’s product. Meanwhile, John is cooperating with DEA agents, hoping to help them arrest Malik in exchange for a reduced sentence for Jason.
As you probably expect, things don’t go according to plan and John finds himself deeper into the drug trafficking world than he ever thought he would be.
“Snitch” is a solid, entertaining movie, but it is mostly unremarkable.
The cast is a definite bright spot. Johnson turns in one of his best performances, Sarandon is as great as ever in a very limited role, Barry Pepper continues to elevate each movie he is in and Bernthal (of “The Walking Dead”) is quite good, too.
Fans of “The Wire” will also rejoice to see Michael K. Williams playing a character similar to his virtually legendary “Omar.” Williams brings his usual swagger and gets to deliver most of the movie’s best one-liners.
The director and co-writer, Ric Roman Waugh, has worked as a stuntman and stunt coordinator for almost three decades. This inspired some hope going into the film, for at least, I thought, the action sequences would be well-crafted and wouldn’t rely on computer-generated imagery.
The film gets mixed marks on those points. Waugh and his crew do use real stuntmen rather than CGI, but every time an action sequence begins, Waugh switches to a handheld camera style that makes it almost impossible to tell what is going on.
The sum effect is a movie I enjoyed but likely wouldn’t have paid for. It will provide a fix for anyone who needs a dose of action this weekend, but otherwise, this one can wait for home video.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.