Never judge a book by its cover they say, but in this day and age of advertising we are at least allowed to raise certain expectations when wee see a book cover… or movie poster in this case. Snitch, the latest solo-vehicle of wrestler turned action hero Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, has him standing on the poster looking determined, rolled up sleeves, veins clearly visible on his arms. In the background there’s a truck seemingly on fire crashing canto other cars. The synopsis says it’s about a father going undercover in a drug cartel to get the sentence of his son reduced. If this doesn’t turn out to be an action packed one-man-army movie…
Aaaaand it’s mostly drama.
My compliments for Johnson to take on something different and very understandable of the makers to use him since he’s a well known name, but while he does the best he can, he’s no thespian. His dominating screen presence, created by his enormously big muscles, make it hard to believe he’s just you’re average blue collar turned successful businessman. Those guys are too busy making something out of their business, they don’t have time to spend all day in the gym working on such a physique. The role also requires him to be in danger all the time, and while eventually this does become the case, an actor like Ryan Gosling or Ben Foster would be much more appropriate in such a role.
Snitch is about a teenager, Jason, reluctantly agreeing to keep a large amount of XTC pills for his friend, not knowing he’s being set up because this friend is facing jail time and the only way to get his sentence reduced is to help trap another drug dealer. They offer him the same deal but sadly he doesn’t know anyone to turn in so he’s facing a minimum of 10 years for simply accepting a package delivered by a mailman. The whole set up stinks as well, what if it was mom who opened up and accepted the package? His father John (Johnson) forces his services upon a DA hungry for a big bust (Susan Sarandon) and uses his company and a worker (Jon Bernthal) to go undercover and help her to a big bust.
Snitch is a drama with a message wrapped in the cover of a brainless action movie. I support the message on display here. The war on drugs is a failed one, instead of incarcerating basically everybody that even remotely smells of marijuana the USA could use a more free thinking approach. Turn a blind eye to possession when it’s just user quantities and arrest only people who are actually a danger to others when on drugs. But that’s just my opinion and since I’m from The Netherlands I’m probably labeled as a drug user any way by the average American, at least when that American watches Fox News. But even so, the whole entrapment part followed by minimum sentences is nothing short of a recipe for disaster. Sure you can say that Jason should have been more vocal about accepting the package, but still, this was an innocent boy until the DEA willingly has a friend push him to help him out. He reluctantly says yes to his friend, has this box of pills in his hand for just a minute, and like that he’s going to jail for 10 years. Sure he should have never accepted but if the DEA didn’t exist, people like Jason wouldn’t be pushed into doing something illegal. This way this agency simply creates its own reason for existing; look at all these teenagers we can entrap! And for what use? Jason wasn’t a danger to society and XTC is a relatively harmless drug. He wasn’t some pusher trying to get kids on heroin or meth. So the DEA entraps teenagers with bright futures and sends them to prison for a minimum of 10 years for making a stupid mistake and who will probably be a full fledged criminal upon its release since the prison system is designed for punishment, not rehabilitation. The DEA: creating the very criminals they’re supposed to put behind bars.
What the movie lacks is focus. It wants to be everything at the same time. It’s an action movie, a drama and a political statement all wrapped into one making it a movie that leaves no real impression. For a guy nicknamed The Rock Johnson shows range, but a tormented character like this could have used more. Even though the very first time he encounters some street punks they kick him to the curb leaving him bleeding, he still looks like he can take on an army. It’s probably due to his filmography, but still a more average built actor would have fared better in this movie. He’s surrounded by Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon, as well a a whole string of character actors like Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, Benjamin Bratt and Michael K. Williams who has been popping up regularly in show-stealing-roles in TV Shows and movies.
That said, the movie isn’t boring. It’s entertaining and has a message, but in terms of execution makes a mistake that has been made many times before. It has a former athlete and action star in a dramatic role, something which rarely works. Jean-Claude van Damme has proven to be able to actually act, but for every Van Damme there are a dozen Seagals. Anybody who has seen The Patriot can testify to that. And while I think Dwayne Johnson is able to surprise us all, and does a pretty decent job in this movie, I also think that he needs more training and should start low key in supporting roles. Because when you put his face on the cover people will expect 80’s action, not drama.