Dwayne Johnson Rises Above The Rock
DIRECTED BY RIC ROMAN WAUGH/2013
If you’ve heard anything about Snitch, it’s probably that Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock, is finally making a break into more nuanced roles. He’s 40, and though that’s not ancient for action movie stars (ask Bruce Willis), it’s time he branched out in case The Tooth Fairy doesn’t get that much needed sequel.
In his new movie Snitch, Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a Rocky Maivia, plays John Matthews, a father on his second marriage who runs his own trucking company. Matthews isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and get involved in the grungier side of the business. After talking numbers on a phone call in the office, he helps a mere employee put away some bags of cement out in the yard before the rain comes in. Snitch promises early on, John Matthews is a regular middle-American dude who just happens to look like a biracial wrestler.
But things get a little grungier. Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron), his 18-year old son from his previous marriage, is arrested during a drug trafficking sting. A rotten friend set him up and he’s only a first-time offender, but there are mandatory minimum sentences for drug felonies. So young, pretty-boy Jason will have to serve out a ten-year prison sentence unless he can help the DEA flip another friend. Jason refuses to be a snitch, though. John feels guilty for how absent he has been as a father and promises his son that he’ll get him out of prison, no matter the cost. John then concocts a plan where he will go undercover to help the DEA nab higher-level drug dealers in exchange for a commutation of his son’s prison sentence. The federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) on Jason’s case is in the midst of an election campaign and needs a big drug bust. So she bites and accepts John’s cockamamie scheme. With the help of DEA Agent Cooper (Barry Pepper doing his best Techno Viking), John goes after mid-level thug Malik (Michael K. Williams doing his best Omar Little). Things, of course, don’t work out exactly as planned and eventually John finds himself in too deep.
The story is based on a documentary about mandatory minimum laws—the “true events” by which this film was “inspired.” Early on we’re given clumsy exposition about these laws, and later on we’re presented a preachy title card about the injustice of these laws, or saving the whales or the plight of stray cats or something. I’m sure it’s a real issue in need of some kind of reform, but I wouldn’t refer someone to Snitch for an emotional appeal.
An early scene has John Matthews trying to “take back the streets” on his own, only to get pummeled by a gang of random drug dealers. It can be taken as a metaphor for the justice system. Maybe the system is just too big and too random to take on alone. Mostly, it just reminded me of more satisfying movies like Death Wish and grander movies like Gran Torino.
Ultimately, as a social issue piece, Snitch is too fantastical. As an action movie, it’s not fantastical enough. Director Ric Roman Waugh has previous experience as a stunt man, and it shows in the fun second half of the movie, where the action is. The first half is has melodramatic build up with a couple of false starts. It never really does any one genre (social issue, melodrama, action) well enough for it to stand out. It’s composed of medium shots in the now common shaky cam style; any good framing or creativity is purely accidental. Shreveport, LA doubles for Jefferson City, MO (?), but the colors are so muted that you never really care where you are. The action sequences played up in the trailer are well done, but they comprise so little of the movie that many viewers will feel that they were duped into showing up to a lecture—like sitting through a timeshare sales pitch to get free passes to Disneyworld. But Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson is delivering most of the sales pitch, so it’s not a total loss.
I’m glad Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The People’s Champ, is taking on more challenging roles where he can’t rely solely on his charisma or physique. In a few weeks, he’ll play Roadblock in the upcoming G.I. Joe: Retaliation. He’ll be back in familiar territory. I sense Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Brahma Bull, will find himself in even more larger than life roles as he continues on in his career. Hollywood has a soft spot for brawny men with a nice smile. But in Snitch he’s shown that he can play the regular guy, someone who is believably vulnerable. He’s willing and able to rise above the caricature of the action movie superstar. That’s something that Ahnold could not pull off consistently if at all.
The most standout aspect of Snitch is its star. If you’re a fan of the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment, it’s worth a watch. If you don’t smell what the Rock is cooking, wait for it to come to the small screen and watch Dwayne Johnson begin to come into his own and rise above his a.k.a.’s.