Saturday, March 9, 2013

Snitch




I have to admit, this wasn't a film I was actively seeking out... in fact, if it wasn't for the recommendation of the sole follower of this blog, I probably would never have seen it. Films like this (February release, staring Dwayne Johnson) never really catch my interest, and I had very low expectations going into this viewing. Surely there was a reason this film was dumped during the notoriously slow season for Hollywood, after the Oscar fanfare and before the block-buster period of summer. I merely hoped that I wouldn't regret spending the two hours of running time in the theater.

"Snitch" is a story of a first time drug offender and his mandatory minimum sentence. Shortly after his incarceration, he is ruthlessly beaten by his fellow inmates and even taken to the infirmary. After learning of his estranged son's predicament, John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) attempts to find a loophole of some kind to shorten his son's sentence. Despite the fact that he was set-up by his best friend whose own operation was busted, John's son refuses to orchestrate a similar set-up in order to avoid additional jail time. John, however, doesn't share the same "integrity" as his son and vows to do all that is in his power to free him. This leads to John using the resources of his own construction company in order to catch a drug lord in the act of distributing narcotics, which the state prosecutor says will greatly reduce his son's sentence. However, it also necessitates John participating in the transportation of drugs himself, putting him and his new family in serious danger.

This movie took a little while to get going, and the first few scenes of drama were clumsily acted and photographed. However, once the plot was in motion and John began his quest to free his son, the tension became palpable and my enjoyment of the film skyrocketed. This film does a few things very well, which makes up for the amateurish cinematography and clunky dialogue (for the most part). It has real stakes for our protagonist, even begging the question of whether the lengths to which he goes for his son's freedom are even worth the collateral damage and risk to those around him. There were moments throughout the first two thirds of the movie that I was on the edge of my seat, almost shivering from the suspenseful situations into which Johnson's character was constantly putting himself. The second act of this film is really quite intense, with solid acting and relatable struggles for the primary characters.

One of my biggest sticking points, Dwayne Johnson, actually turned out to be a great asset to this film. His toned-down physicality and the "realistic" portrayal of a desperate father was actually quite refreshing. True, there are moments when Johnson struggles to effectively emote, but for the most part, he does an admirable job of portraying this risk-taking everyman. The same cannot be said of most of his co-stars, however, as the remainder of this cast seems to struggle through even the least dramatically challenging line readings. Among the bright spots of the supporting characters, Susan Sarandon's prosecuting attorney does a credible job of depicting a slimy politician jockeying for position in a senate election.

While the first two-thirds of this movie were surprisingly enjoyable, much of the good-will earned during the first 90 minutes was wasted during the drawn-out finale. The events leading to the king-pin of the drug cartel's arrest seemed unbelievably simple (how about not staring the police down as you pass them... way to stay inconspicuous, drug-smuggling mastermind), while the "revelation" of a key character had none of the weight that the filmmakers must have envisioned. In all honesty, I found myself turning on the movie the longer it dragged.

I'm a big supporter of presenting themes or even political motivations in a cinematic venue. Films like "The Dark Knight" have fascinating political and sociological overtones that allow for enjoyment of its material on multiple levels. However, the ham-handed attempt to force a message of how unjust it is for first-time drug offenders to have such a long mandatory minimum sentence was really insulting to my intelligence. The fact that the filmmakers felt the need to post a paragraph about this very issue just before the closing credits makes it all the more awkward. It really bugs me when films can't rely on the strength of their narrative to drive such points home in a subtle, sophisticated manner rather than force-feeding the message to the audience. Film is a great medium with which to express thoughts and emotions about society and politics, but the more blatant the message the more I feel like the filmmakers are trying to manipulate the audience, which is always a turn-off for me.

All in all, "Snitch" is a mostly entertaining venture. The infamous "shaky-cam" is a real issue during this film, but the tension is so great during the first hour and a half that I hardly noticed it. Were the ending not such a convoluted and even mockable mess, I would have given this film a much stronger recommend. As it stands, this is merely a passable success, though certainly a surprising one. I give "Snitch" two and a half stars.

SNITCH is rated PG-13 for drug content and sequences of violence