3.5 stars. Rating: PG-13, for violence and drug content
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.22.13
Despite what’s suggested by the publicity art, Snitch is not another shallow action flick, but instead a grim, thoughtful and quite tense drama about an honest man’s foolish and extremely dangerous descent into the forbidding world of narco-trafficking.
It's also an impressive step forward for star Dwayne Johnson, mostly known until now for, well, shallow action flicks. Until this moment, his notion of “playing against type” meant silly comedies and family-friendly adventures along the lines of Tooth Fairy and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. His work here is in another league entirely, demonstrating acting chops that few would have expected.
Don’t expect Johnson to bust heads and wreak havoc, the way he has done since TV wrestling shows granted access to the likes of The Scorpion King and the remake of Walking Tall. Writers Justin Haythe and Ric Roman Waugh go for credible drama here, and while the results certainly fall short of, say, Traffic, Waugh — also serving as director — ably delivers a believable cautionary tale along the lines of Midnight Express.
I’d like to believe that at least a few naïve and stupid teenagers might think twice about their own ill-advised activities, after watching this consequence-laden saga.
Life-changing disaster arrives in the blink of an eye, as this film begins, when 18-year-old Jason (Rafi Gavron) foolishly accepts delivery of a package, as a “favor” to a friend, knowing full well that the box is filled with illicit drugs. The thing is, Jason never quite agrees to this scheme, but he does sign for the package. And then he opens it, at which point he’s busted in a police sting.
The “friend” rolls over on him immediately, and suddenly Jason faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in a federal prison. His only avenue toward earlier release would involve deliberately setting up other friends and classmates, perhaps even fabricating evidence — against people he’s not even sure do drugs — and that’s an act of betrayal he’s not willing to commit.
(One cannot help hearing echoes of the post-WWII House Un-American Activities Committee trials, with their — often successful — attempts to persuade Hollywood directors, producers and writers to “rat out” fellow Communists, lest their own careers be destroyed. Breeding a culture of state-enforced snitches never produces a healthy social dynamic.)