Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s movie career has taken off quite nicely. When the WWE superstar decided to make his foray into movies in 2001, many thought he was a natural and would be successful. But many also raised their own eyebrow to the thought that he’d be one of the bigger movie stars in the world. I think you can call him that these days. He’s added the Fast And The Furious and G.I. Joe franchises to his resume, but my favorite films from him are the smaller ones; the ones that allow him to carry the picture rather than just be part of the show. Films like Gridiron Gang and The Rundown allowed him to be the main event and I thought he did a fine job in them. Even a movie like the remake to Walking Tall, which was produced like it was B movie, was stronger than it should’ve been because of his presence. He’s also done his fair share of stinkers like The Tooth Fairy and Doom.
2013 is going to be a banner year for Johnson. Four of his films are scheduled for release in 2013, including the first one, Snitch, which is inspired by real-life federal drug policy law that seems unfair, giving harsh sentences to first-time offenders, and then encouraging snitching in order to reduce sentences. I thought Carmelo Anthony told people to stop snitching? Didn’t someone say snitches get stitches?
Johnson’s character is John Matthews, a well-off owner of a construction company. His son, Jason Collins, (played by Rafi Gavron who you may remember from a few episodes of the NBC family show Parenthood) is in trouble for receiving drugs at his house. He was actually set up by his friend who was a harshly punished first-time drug offender to get his sentence reduced. Jason, in the same predicament, would not sell out his friends and thus, Matthews tries to figure out a plan to get his son’s sentence reduced for fear that his son won’t survive in prison. Matthews and Collins are estranged as Matthews divorced Collins’ mother and Collins chose to stay with his mom over his dad, who remarried and started a new family.
The movie takes some interesting and maybe unnatural/unconventional story telling arcs. The plot is that The Rock’s character tries to bring down a drug dealer so that his son’s sentence can be reduced. Working with a District Attorney who is running for Congress (and played by Susan Sarandon), he hatches a plan bring down a local powerhouse drug dealer thanks to a connection through one of his workers. He decides to concoct a story that he needs money because of his failing business in order for the drug dealer to trust him so they can work together. And the plan works too well for it to be believable.
The unnaturalness comes when the movie is about halfway done. It’s too early for the climax, but it seems to be coming as Matthews looks to succeed in helping arrest the drug dealer. But instead, the agent who Matthews is working with decides to not arrest him to instead go after the leader of the drug cartel (played by Benjamin Bratt) who the dealer tips off. I knew it was way too early for the movie to be over and was confused as to what was happening and why.
(By the way, either some of Bratt’s gnarlier scenes were cut out, or they didn’t want him to portray an evil guy. He’s the least scary drug lord you’ve ever seen. Where’s Nino Brown when you need him?)
Because of the intensity of the scenes where The Rock’s character is being closely scrutinized by the drug dealer, there is a lot relief when all is okay. But when the movie changes direction, I felt a bothered that I was going to have to go through those feelings again. How many times do you want your heart to race uncomfortably in one film?
I think the movie also takes for granted that the viewers understand the drug laws and why they were put in place. They seem completely cruel and unusual and early on, I was wondering if the drug rules were even real. (A few google searches seem to back up the movie storyline.)
Johnson’s portrayal of a hopeless father who goes to the deepest and darkest place to save his son is a good one. He mostly speaks in hushed tones and you don’t get to see him be bombastic like he is on television in a WWE ring, but it’s one of his stronger performances. Fans of his may be disappointed in the lack of action scenes, but the movie is more of a thriller/drama than an action movie. Sarandon is equally good as the DA who is cold-hearted in dealing with Matthews. She clearly has an agenda and seems to not really care what happens to him all that much.
My favorite supporting character was Daniel James, played by Jon Bernthal who is best known for being in The Walking Dead. James is the person who helped Matthews connect with the drug dealer, but he didn’t know the true reason why. He’s a former dealer turned clean, but is forced back into the game by helping his boss. Bernthal’s character hits a gamut of emotions in the short time he’s on screen going from protective and loving with his family to intense and cold-blooded when he knows he’s back in and he didn’t want to be.
The movie does its job in that it stays interesting throughout. Even though I was uncomfortable because of how awkwardly the story bounced around, I was still entertained. Director Ric Roman Waugh does a good job keeping the film moving, even though he could’ve been more detailed, both visually and in dialogue. The setting almost seemed to be missing.
The movie is taking a little bit of a beating with the critics, but I’d give it a soft B.
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