Reviewed by Ian Forbes
“Inspired” by the true events in the PBS Frontline documentary Snitch, the fictional feature film of the same name attempts to do a number of things … too many things.
The documentary examines the efficacy of mandatory minimum sentencing in relation to drug offenses. Parties found guilty in those situations can reduce their sentences by helping capture/convict others of their ilk. Ideally, that provision is meant to move up the criminal hierarchy, trading small time crooks in for the bigger players; but in real life that hasn’t always happened and it has elements of the justice system looking to change things.
The feature film stars
The Rock Dwayne Johnson as the father of a kid whose friend sets him up to reduce his own sentence. In order to help his son, Johnson works with the Federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) and the DEA (led by Barry Pepper) to take down a drug kingpin. Along the way, not only does the story touch upon the practice of allowing criminals to snitch on others, there’s elements of political ambition, the dysfunction created by divorce, and the complications of an ex-con trying to go straight all thrown into this drama/light action film.
Cramming all of those notions into the movie dilutes handling any one of them effectively. The most engaging scenes involve the ex-con (Jon Bernthal) as he is roped into Johnson’s desperate attempt to free his son from prison. Next on the interest meter are the interactions between Johnson, Bernthal, and the criminals they’re up against (Michael K. Williams and Benjamin Bratt). But the fundamental problem of Snitch is that nearly every scene not involving the criminal underworld fall flatter than unleavened bread.
Every jailhouse heart-to-heart between Johnson and his son is a great excuse to get up and go to the bathroom or grab a snack. Any of the familial issues Johnson has to deal with from either his current or former wife should come with a skip button for audiences. And if it weren’t for Pepper’s inclusion in many of the scenes, the discussions between Johnson and Sarandon do little more than push the plot along dutifully.
Action fans won’t find too much to like here, as the film is largely a drama and a chance for Johnson to be paternal. Drama fans won’t see much in the way of character development. Anyone interested in the Criminal Justice system are better off watching the documentary or doing some light Internet research. On the whole, Snitch isn’t terrible but it comes off incredibly bland and suffers from an identity crisis. Is this a thriller or a message movie? Far too often it’s the latter and as likable as Dwayne Johnson is, people want to see him laying the smack down, not busting the smack industry.
Snitch hits theaters on February 22, 2013 and is rated PG-13 for drug content and sequences of violence.
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