John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) is living lush with his new wife and young daughter. Well connected, well dressed and wealthy, he’s the American dream.
John’s son Jason (Rafi Gavron: Celeste and Jesse Forever) isn’t quite so happy. Bitter over the divorce of his parents, Jason reviles his father and his money. In a moment of petulance and idiocy, he agrees to have a large bag of Ecstasy sent to his mother’s house.
The cops don’t take kindly to Jason’s enterprising spirit. Even though a first-time offender, he’s looking at a minimum sentence of 20 years. Jason’s only salvation is to deal with the U.S. Attorney (Susan Sarandon: Cloud Atlas) to help her catch bigger fish.
Problem is, Jason doesn’t know any other dealers, since he’s a pretty good, if misguided kid. The attorney is unmoved: No dealers, no deal.
Horrified to think his boy will spend his life in jail, John comes up with a deal of his own: If he helps nab a few big fish in the drug world, Jason goes free.
Can John nail enough dealers to buy his son’s freedom? Will he escape with his own life?
With an action star as the lead, it’s not hard to guess the answers to these questions. Still, the biggest surprise in Snitch might be that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is a good dramatic lead when given decent material. Under the direction of Ric Roman Waugh (Felon), Johnson sheds his typical invincibility to play a father way out of his depth. He can’t fight, can’t shoot and can’t quip. All he can do is keep his head low and try to blend in.
What makes Snitch interesting is the moral gray area it explores. To get his foot in the criminal door, John forces his employee Daniel (John Bernthal: The Walking Dead), a former dealer on his second strike, to reconnect with a supplier. A third strike would put Daniel in prison for life, yet John was the only man who would take a chance employing a convicted felon.
The film makes some interesting points. But ultimately Snitch doesn’t have the courage to follow these plot threads far enough to examine the darker nature of the legal system and drug culture.
Though Snitch is ultimately an action-drama, some great supporting work elevates it. Bernthal, who shines as a conflicted mess of a parolee, does some truly impressive work making Daniel a strong and ultimately sympathetic character.
Sarandon also turns in a snappy performance as an attorney with her eye on a seat in Congress. She doesn’t care about John, Jason or justice; she just wants a good bust to appeal to voters. Sarandon is a study of wry wit and feigned feeling, expertly manipulating John to get what she wants.
Snitch might not have the budget or the explosions of A Good Day to Die Hard, but it’s got twice the heart. It’s worth the price of admission to see Johnson live up to his movie-star potential.