When it comes to modern action heroes, you’ve got to wonder why Hollywood’s had so few new takers that it’s forced to rely on recycling the old ones as many times as possible. Aside from the leathery, wrinkled old guard populated by Sly, Willis, Schwartzenegger and a few others, the only two legitimate action heroes of this decade that come to mind are Jason Statham and The Rock. When it comes to profitability, it’s the latter that is the only one who seems to be able to engage audiences enough to get them out to theaters. Of course it didn’t help that the usual brief flirtation most action stars do with family-friendly movies (Vin Diesel in The Pacifier, Schwartzenegger in Kindergarten Cop, Sly in Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot) lasted about three or four years for The Rock. Between this, the Fast and the Furious movies, and the new GI Joe sequel, it looks like those days are firmly behind him and I know I’m not the only one who’s relieved about that. In any case, Snitch is a perfect example of an action movie that is capable of handling serious subject matter while still delivering the adrenaline-fueled tension you’d expect from its star.
A father goes undercover for the DEA in order to free his son who was imprisoned after being set up in drug deal.
I’m definitely curious to know how closely the movie follows the true story it’s based on, as it truly is an incredible story. If nothing else, the mandatory minimum laws it highlights are definitely real, but I’ll get into that later.
Snitch definitely presents a side of The Rock I’ve never seen before, and I was very impressed by his ability to… what’s that word again… oh yeah, ACT. I’ll admit it’s a bit tough to look at him and not think of his many other action-hero roles, but all in all I thought he did a great job of conveying the sort of tough-loving yet unwavering devotion John has for his son Jason (Rafi Gavron). The fact that Jason is portrayed as a legitimately good kid who made a dumb mistake definitely helps build a sense of sympathy for his situation.
I really liked the fact that a lot of attention was paid to Jon Bernthal’s character. With his absence form Season 3 of The Walking Dead I was beginning to miss that deformed nose of his, and I thought he was a great fit for the character here. Other “Good Guys” include Barry Pepper as the lead DEA agent working the case and Susan Surandon as the prosecuting District Attorney Joanne Keeghan. Pepper’s pretty solid even if he is a bit underdeveloped, but I had mixed feelings on Surandon. I get that her character is supposed to represent the sort of heavy-handed way that our justice system deals with drug-related crimes, but I couldn’t help but feel that she could have been a bit less of a stand in for an issue and more of an actual character.
As a last note Benjamin Bratt doesn’t have much to do as the trailers might suggest, especially since the movie never really shows him being as vicious as everybody would have you believe. At this point I guess we’re supposed to just assume that if someone is a cartel leader, they are by definition a sadistic killer and not in need of any actual development. With the Cold War over, it seems that Hollywood has adopted The Cartel as its new Russian.
When I saw Rambo: First Blood earlier this year, I was pleasantly surprised by how much it mixed the usual elements of an action movie with an actual message regarding the mistreatment and alienation of Veterans of the Vietnam War. While Snitch won’t have anywhere near the same kind of lasting impact as that film did, I was still very impressed with how much substance it took on in addition to the advertised chase scenes and gunfights.
That message is summed up by the last lines that show before the credits; “The average length of incarceration for first time offenders under the Mandatory Minimum laws are longer than the average lengths of incarceration for most cases of assault, rape and murder”. I could go on and on about this issue, but I’ll keep my own two cents worth brief for now. I strongly believe that the way the war on drugs has been handled in this country over the past fifty years has been a tragically misguided attempt to solve a problem that still shows no signs of going away. I believe that stories like Jason’s happen far too often in this country, only in most cases there isn’t any muscular he-man to save the day.
Anyways, you can see that the message of the film resonated with me, which is a large factor in why I appreciated it. If you don’t really have that much interest in the issue or believe in the sort of way our system currently handles people like Jason, this probably won’t stick for you and you’ll be left trying to get as much entertainment out of the final scenes as you can.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 - Superior
+ A surprisingly fitting dramatic turn for The Rock
+ A relatable premise that allows us to put ourselves in the characters’ shoes
+ A message at it’s core which lends substance to a lot of the action you probably came for
- Some seriously uneven pacing that makes the movie feel like it’s dragging at times
Rotten Tomatoes: 56%
A Door Into Movies: 3/4
The Focused Filmographer: 3.5/5
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 6.5/10
The Entertainment Maven: “A Mild Recommend”