How far would you go to save your son, the poster asks… How many laws would you break? Those sound like really redundant questions, because of their seemingly rhetorical nature… Of course, you’d do anything within your powers to shield your offspring from danger and cinema is full of just such stories. From tear-jerking dramas, redemption stories, through uplifting feel-good comedies, all the way down to gritty morally ambiguous dramas, popcorn actioners, sci-fi summer blockbusters, and even horrors. Therefore, watching a flick about a father turning to the dark side to save his son should in theory reek of stale and rotten material – especially when a muscular Dwayne No-Longer-The-Rock Johnson stares at you from the poster.
Thus, with expectation level set adequately low I proceeded to see “Snitch” and I have to say I was rather pleasantly surprised with what I saw. Speaking as a person who cannot say ‘no’ to a solid action movie (with real people, that is – not gods or superheroes), I have to say that “Snitch” is a modern-day hybrid of a down-to-earth drama with a solid actioner worthy of the 80’s that not only provides solid entertainment, but touches on some delicate problems.
“Snitch” is supposedly based on a true story (not quite, I believe, but anything goes in Hollywood, right?) and in it, we meet John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), a trucker-turned-businessman who has built a successful transportation company, owns a nice house, has a lovely wife and everything a man could ever wish for. One day, however, his teenage son Jason (Rafi Gavron) brings a metric tonne of trouble upon himself by getting involved in a drug deal. Well, technically the only thing he does is he accepts a package full of drugs from his friend, so that someone else could pick it up; nothing major. What he doesn’t know is that the whole drug deal is a sting operation led by DEA and he quickly ends up in jail sentenced to a decade behind bars. When his father learns about it, he tries to pull some strings with the DA (Susan Sarandon) – unsuccessfully.She reveals to John that his son has fallen prey to the DEA’s new and brilliant program of fighting the drug crime, that involves busting little school kids with sizable quantities of controlled substances and bullying them into setting up someone else in exchange for reduced sentence. Because Jason’s friend didn’t know any better, he ‘framed’ Jason instead – a boy with neither criminal record, nor any connections to the underworld, and made him up to be a gang-banger or something like that. Seeing that his son would not go down the same road and destroy someone else’s life, John offers the DA a deal, in which he would do the snitching instead of his son and if his work results in a major bust, Jason would get out of prison with a slap on the wrist; and he proceeds from there.
So, why again was I surprised? First of all, the action in “Snitch” is not at all overwhelmingly explosive – and that is a definite plus, because in the end, the film’s psychological level has a chance to surface a bit more and the characters are more colourful in return. “Snitch” is not a 2013 Commando-type revenge film, where a big and muscular ex-wrestler takes matters into his own hands, disregards the law and single-handedly brings down a powerful cartel. Instead, we see the more believable every-man character who doesn’t quite know, how to do what he needs to do, but his determination and a ‘particular set of skills’ have to suffice him in order to save his son’s life.
For once this summer (a four-month delay in relation to the US notwithstanding) I got to see some action drama with actual substance in it. While “Snitch” has its flaws and leaps in logic, I think it is fair to turn a blind eye on them and enjoy the positives. The film is paced rather well and the slow-down periods are few and far between, but the main reason I like this film has actually little to do with the car chases, gangsters, or shootings. The fact a pile of muscle like Dwayne Johnson can shed his image of a macho superhuman and go above and beyond to breathe life into his character is more than enough to buy me over. After all, when all the gunshots are fired and all the cars destroyed, we are left with ordinary people in extra-ordinary circumstances, and that’s vital for a good action drama.
About those circumstances: I have a reason to believe that the usual ‘based on a true story’ nonsense is about as accurate for “Snitch” as it is for any run-of-the-mill found footage horror flick. However, the only thing that was taken from real life was the fact DEA was (or is) running a huge scale game of “you’re it” where tagging a person ensured one’s freedom or reduced his sentence. Take it or leave it, but in general, the whole idea of the film hinges on something not even remotely possible (or even illegal) according to the rule of law. Therefore, “Snitch” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what could potentially be a very different (and very political) commentary, if done right. What it does, however, is take this highly illogical concept and makes it a canvas for some grit, tears, blame and penance – all the goodies that come with a family.
And that is what elevates “Snitch” together with Dwayne Johnson from the crowd of action-packed mindless strings of explosions. Apart from it providing adequate entertainment value, this film is a decent story in its own right and I think I’m OK with Dwayne Johnson dipping his toes in something more than just action films, because he has what it takes to create a character, make it his own and sell it to the audience. As much as I hate to say this, Dwayne Johnson proved here to me that he could make me forget it was ‘The Rock’ I was watching. And that’s a feat Arnold Schwarzenegger could never accomplish. Try as he might, he always remained himself.