Friday, January 31, 2014

Quick Cut Review - "Snitch"


Directed by:  Ric Roman Waugh
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Susan Surandon and Benjamin Bratt
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 1 hour 52 minutes  
Release Date: February 22, 2013


It takes a lot of balls to cast a well established action star against type. That strength comes from both sides of the coin though, both the actor and studio have to know what they are doing before diving in head first. While Dwayne Johnson's sleeper hit Snitch from last year isn't as drastic a departure from his action guy persona (this isn't the second coming of The Tooth Fairy thank goodness), it also isn't the testosterone fueled action extravaganza his fans have come to expect either. It most certainly isn't what all the marketing would have you believe, that's for sure.

Snitch is a much more grounded and realistic take on the action hero character type. Johnson's character, who is reeling from his son's recent encounter with the police which has landed him a 10 year jail sentence simply for receiving a package at his door, isn't the type of guy to go out and buy a gun to settle his differences (although that does happen at one point), he is the type of guy who wants to do the right thing but often times gets in way over his head in the process. He makes snap decisions to get stuff done such as bringing in a known drug cartel kingpin to shorten his son's sentence or getting in all nice and cozy like with the local gangsters, but those decisions often lead to him being pummeled into the ground or leading others into mortal danger only to satisfy his own selfish ambitions, noble or not.


Where the film succeeds is by never glorifying what Johnson's character is doing. He is doing some dangerous stuff and he pays for it often. When the shit hits the fan, he doesn't grab a machine gun and start mowing down bad guys, he jumps in his truck and gets the hell out of there. While that may seem cowardly, it helps establish a sense of reality to the story that is sorely missing from other similar vigilante style films. Johnson isn't there to fight crime and take down the cartel, he just wants his son out of jail.

Likewise with the surprising restraint towards turning Johnson's character into an action hero, Johnson himself does a great job of playing your every day Joe who has a job and family and just wants to provide for them. Johnson has done some great work as both the action star and more recently in a very darkly comedic turn in Michael Bay's Pain & Gain, but this is the first time he has taken on the role of a normal guy in an extraordinary situation. Some may point out the very similar Walking Tall from a while back which was also based on a true story about a normal guy doing extraordinary things, but that film ultimately succumbed to those action movie tendencies that Snitch gracefully dodges.

The one area that was somewhat problematic was the story itself, which despite being based on a true story isn't all that original. What helps it though is the central idea of how someone can get caught up in the legal system simply by accepting some mail, which will have you refusing any packages from friends for a while when you see what happens. While the story isn't too original, it does bring to light a very obvious flaw in our legal system and that was enough to make the film's more by the numbers aspects tolerable.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Dwayne Johnson's film career has been a bumpy road for a long time now, but his recent shift back into more adult centric dramas such as Snitch is a good sign that the actor is now at least reading scripts before signing on to them. This is a much more low key style film for him and his fans, but the underlying theme of the film combined with the lack of traditional action hero bravado is a breath of fresh air in this very over saturated genre.

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