I think there can be many ingredients to a successful movie, and there are a variety of ways to end up with an entertaining film.  A movie with a hackneyed plot can still be salvaged with good performances from a gifted cast.  Similarly, a highbrow concept can compensate for trite dialogue.  In Snitch, director Ric Roman Waugh presents a direct but effective story of a man who will exhaust all measures to protect his son. I don’t think Waugh had any great artistic aspirations with this movie, but it was enjoyable in its simplicity and straightforwardness.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson(Fast Five) stars as John Matthews, a recently divorced father of two.  His teenaged son Jason lives with his mother (Melina Kanakaredes, CSI: NY) while John resides with his second wife and their young daughter on a large estate.  A small business owner, John’s job occupies him most of the time.  Perhaps it is this inattention from his father that leads Jason to a very poor decision to get involved with illegal drugs.  He foolishly agrees to allow a friend to mail him ecstasy pills, with the understanding that the friend will pick them up later.  The package is intercepted from Jason’s friend, who agrees to implicate Jason for a reduced penalty.  Ultimately Jason is arrested after he accepts the package, devastating his parents and jeopardizing his promising future.

Jason’s crime subjects him to mandatory minimum laws that require a mandatory sentence for a particular crime, even if it’s the accused’s first offense.  Thus, Jason will be sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, unless he cooperates with the authorities and “snitches” on one of his friends in order to reduce his sentence.  Refusing to betray one of his friends, Jason remains silent, with no hope of release.  With Jason’s refusal to cooperate, John offers to stand in his son’s place and act as an informant for the U.S. Attorney (Susan Sarandon, Cloud Atlas).  If he can help them ensnare someone higher up the “food chain,” Jason’s sentence will be reduced to 6 months.  Snitch is inspired by true events, but this part of the story seemed implausible to me.  I’ll overlook its dubiousness, since I know it is just a vehicle by which to set up the major premise of the movie.

After John gets the green light from the Feds, he enlists the help of one of his employees (Jon Bernthal The Walking Dead), an ex-con who can provide the entre into the underworld that he needs.  The bulk of the movie follows John as he moves closer to landing a major cartel player in order to save his son.  The movie was action-packed and tense, and Johnson’s portrayal of a devoted father was convincing.  He showed a subtle tenderness in a few scenes, displaying the right mix of intensity and restraint in the role.

However, there was virtually no character development.  The movie was very linear, and it reminded me of the old “B movies” of the 1980s.  Despite being straightforward, I appreciated its commentary on the criminal justice system.  Waugh closes with an astonishing statistic that mandatory minimum laws often result in greater sentencing for drugs than rape and murder.  The movie humanized the war on drugs in a thoughtful, simple way.  The only other observation I’d make is that I was surprised by the quality of the cast.  In addition to Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper (Broken City) and Benjamin Bratt also make appearances, and I thought Waugh was lucky to have them in such ordinary roles.  Simple yet illuminating, Snitch was a fairly good way to spend an afternoon at the movies.  Grade: B

This article first appeared at Poptimal and was reprinted with permission

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