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Thursday, March 7, 2013 05:30 pm

Johnson shows surprising range in compelling Snitch

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Based on a true story, Ric Roman Waugh’s Snitch is far better than it has any right to be. As a vehicle for Dwayne Johnson, going a far way toward putting his “Rock” image in the past here, it includes elaborate action scenes. However, there are far fewer explosive moments than usual for this kind of fare as Waugh focuses more on how the characters react to ever-tightening web of circumstances they find themselves in.

Johnson is John Matthews, a successful businessman who owns his own trucking firm. Ensconced in a McMansion in the ’burbs with his second wife, his middle-class dream is shattered when his son Jason (Rafi Gavron) is arrested on a rather bogus drug charge and faces a 10-year sentence thanks to mandatory sentencing laws. Unwilling to let that happen, Matthews attempts to cut a deal with Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), a self-serving district attorney with eyes on an open congressional seat. Though she initially brushes him off, once Matthews convinces her that he can infiltrate the local drug trade by offering to transport their merchandise with his big rigs, she’s willing to see what he can do. Though he eventually gets a local drug lord (Michael Kenneth Williams) to implicate himself, Keeghan’s eager to reel in his supplier, the head of the Mexican Drug Cartel, Juan Carlos Pintera (Benjamin Bratt). Matthews finds a way to infiltrate his operation but at great risk to himself and his partner Daniel (Jon Bernthal), an ex-con.

If I were a betting man, I’d wager that about 35 percent of the story is true with the rest fashioned to please Johnson’s fans. Be that as it may, credit must be given to Waugh for resisting to make this nothing but a slam-bang affair. The axe he’s here to grind is that of mandatory minimum sentence laws being unfair and he approaches the material as if it’s a modern film noir. Though there’s no femme fatale in sight, the film effectively employs other conventions of the genre, namely the notion of fate being stacked against its characters. The noose they willingly put their heads in gets tighter and tighter with no escape in sight.

Johnson is very good here and it’s fun to watch him stretch himself. More beleaguered father than outsized action hero, he’s able to convey Matthews’ sense of frustration and worry over his son’s plight in a quiet poignant manner. The actor is proving himself to be quite smart where managing his career is concerned and like Clint Eastwood, he’s slowly showing that he’s capable of much more than meets the eye. Equally good is Bernthal, fresh from his run on The Walking Dead. The cards are stacked against his character as well and we sympathize with his plight due to the actor’s ability to channel a sense of desperation that’s never less than heartfelt. Their efforts, as well as Waugh’s tactful direction help elevate Snitch above its B-movie roots, making for a solid and engrossing piece of social commentary.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org

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