Movie Review: Snitch (2013)

Summit Entertainment
Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (for drug content and sequences of violence)
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Writers: Justin Haythe, Ric Roman Waugh
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Jon Bernthal, Banjamin
Action | Drama | Thriller

“John Matthews” (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is enjoying a backyard barbeque when he gets a call from his ex-wife stating that their 17-year-old son (Rafi Gavron) has been arrested. He doesn’t know what for. No one will tell him, so he heads down to the police station where there is still a wait before he can know the details. It is there that he finds out that his boy has been arrested for drug possession with intent to distribute. This happened after receiving a package from a friend who asked him to move it for him. Everyone is shocked because Jason has always been such a good boy (or doesn’t every parent say that?)

The law being what it is, Jason is looking at a minimum of 10 years hard time—if he agrees to rat on everyone he knows with any connections. When he refuses to, he is suddenly looking at up to 30 years, and that with having no criminal record or any other run-ins with the law.

Matthews is a businessman and uses his connections to get a personal audience with District Attorney “Joanne Keeghan” (Susan Sarandon), hoping to gain leniency for his son, but Keeghan supports the law and can offer no help. She wants to be seen as a hard-nose to better her chances for election to congress. It is then that a concerned dad takes matters into his own hands with the reluctant help of one of his employees, a previous drug-user and convicted felon “Daniel James” (Jon Bernthal) who is trying to turn his life around.

Totally out of his depth or skill set, Matthews becomes a snitch on some of the baddest traffickers in and through the area at great personal risk to himself and his remote family. When his selflessness gets the attention of Keeghan who finally agrees to accept his help, the future for Jason starts to look potentially brighter. But so much can go wrong with dad’s life on the line at every encounter.

Snitch is a mended and dramatized version of the Settembrino case (the true story can be found here). The movie is one with a message, a dramatic condemnation of minimum sentencing laws for first-time offenders and overzealous prosecution in the name of cutting down on crime.

No one will miss its very thickly laid-on point, but this is in almost direct contrast to some of it’s (under)performances that seem not to have been priorities for several well-known names before us, though Johnson’s performance may well be considered somewhat of an exception. And it’s not just the bigger names that don’t rise above the standards.

When Matthews is accepted as a driver to move the drugs for “Malik” (Michael Kenneth Williams), we are not overwhelmingly sold on him as a suspicious kingpin badass, or with local cartel operator “Jaun Carlos ‘El Topo’ Pintera” (Benjamin Bratt). But the roles of the characters come off well enough to allow us to accept them.

Jon Bernthal as "Daniel James"
The drama stays intact, and with a notably intense performance by Bernthal who was not only a perfect casting choice, but, unlike others, really gets into his role, and at a few junctures, manages to really, really impress. His is the best performance in the film by far.

Snitch feels like a made-for-TV movie for sure, but it nonetheless justifies itself as a semi-gratifying non-waste of time. It may lack the curves and twists to heighten the payoff, but the steady-hand storytelling keeps its level of interest right to the end. It’s the kind of movie you can take your aging parents to and expect to really eat it up.