Article By: Dan Clark
It is common to see actors, writers, and producers try their hand at directing. What is not nearly as common is seeing a former stunt man sitting in the director’s chair. Ric Roman Waugh has nearly done it all in the world of movies—stunts, screenplays, acting, and now directing. His latest directorial effort Snitch is by far his most ambitious. With one of the world’s biggest stars by his side, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’, he is attempting to break into the main stream. Snitch strains to be a gritty crime thriller that reveals the rampant hypocrisy of America’s War on Drugs. It wears its message on its sleeve and that message is in big bold letters, highlighted yellow, and embroidered for all to see. In a world full of tedious paint-by-numbers action films it is a welcome change of pace for one to take a crack at some resemblance of social commentary. The issue is this endeavor is clumsily executed in nearly every way. Dialogue lacks subtlety, tension is rarely established, and the plot clings to clichés with a Kung Fu like grip. Nearly everything here has been done better in other films, television shows, and the editorial section of your local newspaper.
The big target of Snitch’s narrative is mandatory minimum laws that have been developed to help combat the U.S. drug problem. John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), who is just your typical owner of a construction company, quickly becomes familiar with the mandatory minimum laws when his son Jason (Rafi Gavron) is arrested for drug possession. Jason was tricked by his friend to accept a package containing a massive amount of drugs. The package was being tracked by the police so Jason was instantly arrested once it arrived. Even though Jason has never sold drugs before he is facing a mandatory sentencing of ten years due to amount of drugs that were found on him. John sees his son is not suited to survive 10 months in jail let alone ten years. He frantically convinces the DEA to allow him to go undercover to help make arrests of alleged drug kingpins. If this plan works his son will once again be a free man. If it doesn’t his son’s life may not be the only one in jeopardy.
There are ways to effectively insert political messages into film. This is not one of them. There are scenes, like the Matthews’s family lawyer explaining mandatory minimum laws to John’s ex-wife, that sound like excerpts from Wikipedia articles. The narrative is designed to show the gray nature of today’s war on drugs. Showing how both sides are equally guilty of moral corruption and deceit. Each will use the innocence of others to better their own cause. Whether it is sending a guiltless kid to jail to prove a point, or selling illegal narcotics to people who cannot afford to heat their homes—what is right and right is wrong is dependent upon the side of the desk you sit on. Snitch’s revaluations are nothing new, nor are they are all that poignant. You are better off watching something like The Wire or 25th Hour that go beyond the basic levels of this issue. This concept is so unique and unlikely it is difficult to transfer it to a grander universal scale. If anything this case is the exception–not the rule.
Dwayne Johnson has made a rather seamless transition from the world of professional wrestling to the world of film. Though he has taught us we should take him seriously as an action star, he has yet to prove he is a legitimate actor. This is probably his most subdued role to date. You can see him try to keep is more charismatic side in check as he attempts to play the role of the everyday man caught in an unbelievable situation. Still, it comes off as trying to push a square peg into a round hole. His casting does a great deal to undermine much of the tension. This should be a story about an average man who tries to control an uncontrollable situation. Seeing John Matthews sit down with hard as nails drug dealers should make you fear for his safety, but when your ‘Average Joe’ towers over everyone else in the room you are just waiting for him to jump into action mode and clear the room with an assortment of punches, kicks, and well placed head-butts. Imagine if the Bad News Bears looked like steroid invested clones of Barry Bonds—it’s simply hard to view them as the underdogs.
Johnson does stay true to his character as much as possible. Never does he morph into a supreme hero who can single-handedly save the day. Also one wonders if his lacking performance was more a result of Waugh’s directing ability rather than Johnson’s acting prowess. Even Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon gives a questionable performance as the feisty district attorney who helps approve this elaborate plan. She never feels like a true person as her character is so blatantly immoral. If Snitch wants to show the complexities of the drug war one place to start would be creating characters that have a fraction of authenticity. Instead everyone appears as Infomercial versions of themselves—selling you on the corruption of our court system. Their points may be one hundred percent valid. You still need to form a solid argument to prove your case.
Waugh’s experience in the action world did pay dividends with the action scenes. There is not a ton of action, but what is there works well within this film’s framework. Unlike many of the characters it stays in the realm of reality. A high-speed chase involving a semi-truck is probably the most outlandish, but even that sequence stayed grounded enough to work in this world. Even with this spattering of action Snitch fails to be successful. This is another case where the ‘Inspired by True Events’ mantra is sullied with a story that is void of originality.