|Starring Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Barry|
Pepper, Jon Bernthal, Michael Kenneth Williams,
and Benjamin Bratt
On almost all counts, the U.S. war on drugs is a complete failure. No matter the billions of dollars spent to eradicate the supply, interdict the transport of, or criminalize the use of drugs, the market will quench the overwhelming demand for any and all types of illegal substances. While Traffic (2000) addressed drugs from all facets including supply, demand, and everything in between, Snitch focuses on the black and white effects of mandatory minimum laws for first time drug offenders.
If you are caught possessing over a defined amount of, in this case, MDMA aka ecstasy, there are punishments federal judges by law are not allowed to ignore. There are no gray areas and no special circumstances; that is, unless you are willing to snitch to bring down the next unlucky soul. Jason (Rafi Gavron) is a walking cautionary tale. His best friend gets him to accept mail delivery of a ridiculous quantity of ecstasy pills and boom – 10 years in federal prison. Jason is no snitch though; he is going to do his time. However, Jason’s scruples are unacceptable to his father, John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson).
Through business connections, John runs straight to the federal prosecuting attorney, Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), who is also campaigning for Congress and in no mood to appear soft on crime. To advance the plot, she accepts a deal where instead of Jason snitching on his fellow high school students, John is going to use his trucking company to transport immense amounts of cocaine.
Getting into the drug trafficking business is not easy. John looks up ‘drug cartel’ on Wikipedia and to its credit, Snitch takes its time getting him in the same room with his supplier, Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams). Working with DEA Agent Cooper (Barry Pepper), John is going to bring down one of St. Louis, Missouri’s most hardcore drug suppliers. Unfortunately, John is so good at what he does, he catches the eye of the big boys, a Mexican cartel. The prosecutor is no longer interested in Malik, she wants a cartel Captain and the accompanying media attention. Poor John, he just wants to spring his son from prison.
On one hand, Snitch shows the drug business as what it is, dirty and dangerous and steers clear of making it look glamorous in any way. On the other hand, it has an after school special feel to it. Every time John visits Jason in the slammer, he has more bruises on his face and is scared to death. Since Snitch is PG-13, Jason only gets punched in the face a lot instead of the more common sexual assault issues he would face as a young and fresh 18 year old in federal prison. Snitch is a dramatized version of a scared-straight TV reality show at times. Warning, if you mess around with ecstasy pills, the Nuevo Leon Mexican cartel is going to show up on your doorstep and slaughter your family.
Unlike some of The Rock’s previous films including Faster (2010) and Doom (2005) and what its previews attempt to make you think, Snitch is not wall-to-wall action. There is more nuanced suspense and a healthy dose of family drama thrown in. Dwayne Johnson appears way too physically large to play Jason’s dad, not because they don’t look alike, but because John gets pushed around and beat up way too easily here. Michael Kenneth Williams as Malik is casting at its finest. Nobody plays a drug dealer better than Omar from The Wire. However, Susan Sarandon does not work as the prosecutor and Barry Pepper sports the world’s ugliest and least believable goatees.
Snitch has a perfunctory message referencing mandatory minimum laws. It barely scratches the surface of the issue and trades in any real discussion of their pros and cons for more scenes of The Rock promising his son he will get him out of prison. Hurry dad, get out there and transport some product; Jason is quickly running out visible places to bruise.