Snitch: Actioner Starring Dwayne Johnson

Blending the conventions of a social problem picture, family melodrama, and actioner, Snitch, starring Dwyane Johnson, surprises with how effective this mixture is.

Summit, which releases the film February 22 (Oscar weekend), is marketing “Snitch” as an actioner and Dwayne Johnson star vehicle. But, essentially, this is a social issue movie, which while familiar in its basics, is quite involving dramatically, and occasionally even touching.

Competently directed and co-written by Ric Roman Waugh (Who previously had helmed “Felon”), “Snitch” could generate interest among male viewers, now that the latest (and awful) “chapter in Bruce Willis’ “”Die Hard” has been released and performed only moderately at the box-office.

The good news is that Johnson continues to develop as an actor-star. For some reason, he has been typecast in several, not too satisfying comedies, but here he proves that with the right material he can rise to the occasion.

On some level, “Snitch”” is a timely movie, containing themes and issues deriving from the headlines news. The workable screenplay is credited to Waugh and Justin Haythe, who had previously penned “Revolutionary Road” and “The Clearing,” and is presumably inspired by actual events, first recounted in a PBS “Frontline” documentary.

In this two-generational melodrama, Johnson plays a desperate father tries to save his teenage son from unjust prison sentence by infiltrating a dangerous drug cartel.

Johnson is good as a businessman named John Matthews, who like most parents is devastated when his son Jason (Rafi Gavron), only 18, receives a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence in federal prison. Jason has been caught with a package he claims he has received from a friend. Unbeknownst to him, the parcel contained illicit drugs.
When Jason turns down an offer from the politically ambitious U.S. Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) to reduce his sentence by manufacturing evidence against another guy, Matthews asks Keeghan to let him go undercover and take matters in his hands.

In due course, Matthews infiltrates the violent gang led by ruthless drug dealer Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams). But there is price to be paid: In his efforts to save his son, Matthews compromises another innocent man (Jon Bernthal).
Moreover, when he unexpectedly exposes a major player in the Mexican drug trade (Benjamin Bratt), the already dangerous venture turns risky and potentially even deadly.

The smart director has surrounded Johnson with good character actors, such as Sarandon and the still underestimated Barry Pepper (would anyone write a good part for him?), Rafi Gavron (who was so good in “Breaking”), Benjamin Bratt, and others.

Who knows? My evaluation may be a function of expectations level. Mine were low prior to seeing the movie, and so I was pleasantly surprised by the end result, which is quite well produced by the executives behind “Ënd of Watch,” also a good, undervalued picture.