Cast: Dwayne Johnson as John Matthews
Barry Pepper as Agent Cooper
Jon Bernthal as Daniel James
Susan Sarandon as Joanne Keeghan
Michael K. Williams as Malik
Rafi Gavron as Jason Collins
Melina Kanakaredes as Sylvie Collins
Nadine Velazquez as Analisa
Benjamin Bratt as Juan Carlos ‘El Topo’ Pintera
Lela Loren as Vanessa
JD Pardo as Benicio
David Harbour as Jay Price
Harold Perrineau as Jeffrey Steele
Kyara Campos as Isabelle Matthews
James Allen McCune as Craig
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh
John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) is the owner of a Missouri trucking company and warehouse whose teenage son Jason (Rafi Gavron) has been caught in a DEA sting, set up by his friend, and sent to jail for ten years due to federal mandatory minimum laws unless he can set up another drugdealer for a fall. Since he doesn’t know one, Matthews takes matters into his own hands and allows himself to be pulled into the world of drugs in order to help the DEA catch a kingpin in exchange for Jason’s freedom.
The tagline for this new real world crime drama starring Dwayne Johnson says it all: “How far would you go to save your son?” Over the course of roughly two hours we see exactly how far his character John Matthews will go, but it’s important to know going in that despite Johnson’s presence, “Snitch” isn’t an “action movie” per se, nor is it a “thriller,” even if it includes enough elements of both to give those want to experience a little tension a solid ride. It also isn’t “Breaking Bad,” which tempers the gritty world of drugs with humor and violence even if it’s just as much about establishing familial connections and putting them at the heart of the story.
“Snitch” begins by spending time getting to know Johnson’s character John Matthews before putting him into progressively more dangerous situations. From the start, his motivations are clear, that he has to get his son out of jail by any means necessary and he does so by taking matters into his own hands by trying to take down a drugdealer big enough that the prosecutor will reduce his son’s jail sentence.
Whether or not the politics behind the story holds any interest for you, there’s no question that the film is another upward step for Dwayne Johnson as an actor, certainly one of his finer moments as he plays a real person rather than an action hero who is cracking one-liners every few minutes. It may take some time to believe him as an everyman father trying to protect his son, but he shows enough range and vulnerability it becomes easier to eventually buy into it.
At the same time there’s a parallel storyline featuring Jon Bernthal from “The Walking Dead” who is impressively authentic as Daniel, a former convict who introduces John to his former supplier Malik, an extremely dangerous individual played by the inimitable Michael K. Williams from “The Wire.” The rest of the cast is just as strong with the casting of Susan Sarandon as the local US Attorney who gets greedy when it comes to going for the bigger cartel kingpin rather than the relatively small fries drugdealer in Malik and Barry Pepper, sporting a Fu Manchu beard as the undercover DEA agent who is on the frontline on the war on drugs.
Four year ago, director Ric Roman Waugh helmed a movie called “Felon” starring Steven Dorff–his best performance ever in my opinion–and Val Kilmer which took a realistic look at how prison affects a man declared guilty of a crime he didn’t commit. With “Snitch,” Waugh delivers on the promise of his earlier film using the bigger budget to increase the scale without losing touch with the human story at the film’s core. What Waugh really excels at is creating realism, whether it’s in the prison scenes, the workings of a DEA sting or the urban environment in which Malik sets up shop. That helps greatly in terms of smoothing over any need to suspend belief because the situations seem so real, and Waugh avoids many of the clichés that come with the crime genre by avoiding ever making things sensationalistic or over the top.
Even so, some things may still be hard to believe, like the fact that any politician or federal agent would allow a civilian to put themselves into such danger or that a federal prosecutor in Missouri might be at the hub of taking down the Mexican drug cartel.
While some of the more dramatic scenes feel a bit overwrought at times, others are effectively emotional as we see how both John and Daniel’s family lives are being affected by them being dragged into the drug trade. The film’s slow build in order to develop these characters does eventually pay off by leading into an exciting third act filled with tension and a fantastic action set piece that has to be seen to be believed.
The Bottom Line:
“Snitch” offers an incredible human story in following John Matthews’ journey, one filled with tension and drama, and it leaves you thinking in a way we rarely get from typical “action movies” these days.