(US/United Arab Emirates - 2013)
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh. Written by Justin Haythe and Ric Roman Waugh. Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Benjamin Bratt, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal, Michael K. Williams, Melina Kanakeredes, Nadine Velazquez, Rafi Gavron, David Harbour, Harold Perrineau, Lela Loren. (PG-13, 113 mins)
SNITCH purports to be "inspired by true events," which really means a 2004 profile on the PBS series FRONTLINE about the increase in convicted drug traffickers turning informant to get their sentences reduced. That supplies the foundation of this preposterous but undeniably entertaining thriller with Dwayne Johnson as John Matthews, the owner of a successful Missouri construction company, a self-made man with a hot young wife (Nadine Velazquez), an impossibly adorable young daughter, and an all-around charmed life. Matthews is informed by his ex-wife Sylvie (Melina Kanakeredes) that their 18-year-old son Jason (Rafi Gavron) has been arrested and faces federal charges of drug trafficking after he's pressured into accepting a package of 2000 Ecstasy pills sent by his buddy. The reluctant Jason was only supposed to "hold on to it" until his buddy got back to town, but the buddy was nabbed by the feds while trying to ship it and agreed to name Jason as a co-distributor in exchange for a lighter sentence. Jason's lawyer (David Harbour) tells him he can do the same if he agrees to give the feds information on any other drug dealers, but he doesn't know of any and refuses to take part in setting someone up. A desperate Matthews goes to U.S. attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) with an absurd proposition: he'll be the snitch who infiltrates the area drug operation in exchange for getting Jason a reduced sentence.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE), and eventually gets all the evidence requested by Keeghan and undercover DEA agent Cooper (Barry Pepper, sporting a ridiculous goatee), but when Malik namedrops Mexican cartel honcho El Topo (Benjamin Bratt), Cooper calls off the bust, sensing, along with the ambitious Keeghan, who's gunning for a Senate seat, a bigger fish if they wait it out. This forces Matthews to continue lying to his family and to Daniel, and putting them all at risk by going after El Topo.
FELON, was a mostly forgettable but occasionally interesting prison drama that had ambition beyond the usual DTV fare, with Stephen Dorff as a family man who kills a home intruder but still ends up going to prison on murder charges. Though the film offered Val Kilmer wearing one of the worst glued-on goatees ever seen in a movie (apparently, ludicrous facial hair is to Waugh what women's feet are to Tarantino), it seemed to be trying a bit harder than most of its type, with a quietly powerful supporting performance by Sam Shepard as a retired prison guard who can't let go of the job and finds he misses talking to the lifers he's gotten to know as friends after 30 years. SNITCH has similar levels of complex characterization, particularly with Bernthal's Daniel, and though some may regard it as unimportant and slowing the story down, it contributes to the overall impact of the film, giving the people and their situations a certain degree of gravity and consequence. It would've been easy to just have The Rock morph overnight into a hardass vigilante single-handedly taking on a Mexican drug cartel, but Waugh finds a good balance between serious drama and hard-hitting action. And how refreshing is it, especially after last week's cartoonishly inane A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD debacle, to find strong characterization and human fallibility in a modern action thriller?