Snitch screened after WW press deadlines, but it was really whiplash from Dwayne Johnson's alien anatomy that delayed the delivery of this review.
Critic's Grade: C+
“Inspired by true events” reads the opening title card of the oddly engrossing new thriller Snitch
. The earliest scenes, while never what you’d call realistic, establish a premise essentially recognizable. Some kids fall victim to the dopey choices and abysmal luck that land a just-this-side-of-blameless teenager in federal custody after signing for a buddy’s ecstasy shipment. There must be a few college-bound, nonviolent first offenders facing a decade’s hard time from textbook entrapment. So long as the feds are willing to trade a conviction of somebody higher up the dealer pipeline for a commuted sentence, a father might conceivably try and wrangle unrelated evidence to free an imprisoned son, right?
Action movies, even when cloaked in the patina of social justice, demand a certain suspension of disbelief, but there are supposed to be limits. As the unlikely tumbles into the improbable and crashes into the lunatic, a disregard for parameters of the real seems less fanciful than arrogant. U.S. attorneys would not encourage successful family men with political connections (yet without experience in law enforcement, surveillance training, or familiarity with criminal circles) to play undercover super-cop. Midwestern business owners can’t learn the basics of narcotic trafficking online, pick out the right flavor of ex-con already under payroll and leap upwards to the inner circle of a Mexican cartel. However exaggerated the pretense, there’s forgivable charm to suggesting that any one of us could be drafted into service to fight the drug war; it’s something else entirely to imply any one of us could win.
Whatever factual underpinnings originally inspired co-writer/director Ric Roman Waugh (a former stunt coordinator whose fever-dream elaborations of a prison exposé fueled his feature debut Felon), the resultant storyline bears only the vaguest resemblance to the lives people actually live. All things considered, the unrelenting tone of high seriousness imposed upon spiraling implausibilities would have proven unbearable with anyone besides Dwayne Johnson playing the lead. In the closest he’s yet come to a strictly dramatic role, with eyebrows affixed at half mast and alien physicality buried beneath leisure wear, the Rock still bears only the slightest resemblance to actual people, and his presence tacitly papers over the larger absurdities of the premise as cleanly as his sheer size renders ordinary activities distorted and unwieldy.
As de facto straight man sharing the screen with Barry Pepper’s creaky simmer, Jon Berthal’s bodily seethe, and Michael K. Williams’ preening languor, Johnson more than holds his own, and he hits the right blend of frustrated confusion when asked to emote. He maintains dignity as well as anyone in a project not always kind to its actors. The staginess of framing passages barely allows room for the actors to check off motivating impulses. Even Susan Sarandon's thankless role as governmental representative veers between wooden and hammy amidst expository lulls. The pace is never less than deliberate (rhythms seemingly attuned to the roiling musculature of Johnson's lope), but there’s a slackened listlessness to the less violent aspects of the narrative that ring false. When momentum finally takes the wheel in the final 20 minutes, the abandonment of all pretense of coherency arrives as odd comfort. If the disjointed events aren’t quite inspired by truth, at least they feel honest.