This time of year always leaves me feeling like a beaten puppy. So many bad movies come out between Christmas and the Oscars that I’m starting to reflexively cringe whenever lights begin to dim.
It can be so ugly that watching a movie that is simply not terrible feels like a tremendous relief. Such is the case with “Snitch,” one of the finest, not-terrible movies of 2013!
Oh sure, the film’s about 20 minutes too long, the pacing is all over the place and the movie’s star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson couldn’t carry a dramatic scene in a paper bag. But I say again, not terrible.
What helps this movie tremendously is a solid supporting cast and a compelling storyline. “Snitch” boasts that it was “inspired by true events,” which is probably about as misleading as a movie can get since basically every film ever made could argue that it was “inspired” by true events.
By sliding that line in at the beginning of the movie, the filmmakers want you to think you are about to watch some ripped-from-the-headlines, “based on a true story” adaptation.
The reality is that this film’s amateur undercover drug sting is “inspired” by actual police work in the same way “Planet of the Apes” was “inspired” by NASA and primate horsemanship.
But back to “Snitch” not being terrible. Johnson plays John Matthews, the proprietor of a construction company whose 18-year-old son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), reluctantly accepts a package of drugs from a friend.
He is promptly arrested by the DEA as part of a sting operation. United States drug policy has stiff minimum sentencing requirements (even for first-time offenders) that are designed to encourage those in the drug trade to rat out their superiors. These are the “true events” that “inspired” “Snitch.” Ok, I’m done with the snarky quotation marks.
Jason gets saddled with 10 years and since the only drug dealer he knows is the kid who set him up, he’s stuck in prison.
Not willing to sit by while his son rots in jail, John strikes a deal with U.S. Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), who agrees that if he can secure the arrest of an actual drug dealer she will get Jason’s sentence reduced.
John enlists the help of an ex-con employee (played by Jon Bernthal of “The Walking Dead”) to help him make some underworld connections. In no time, John is negotiating drug deals and getting further and further in over his head.
In spite of some logical flaws, “Snitch” works because John doesn’t morph into some death-defying action hero. He is always out of his element and in very real danger, which I’m sure is why Johnson took this part. He probably wanted to show his range without venturing too far out of his comfort zone.
The fact of the matter is that “Snitch” might have worked even better if John had been played by someone a little more unassuming. Johnson is a mountain of a man and it’s hard to imagine him being physically intimidated by anyone no matter how well armed they were.
Fortunately for Johnson, he is almost always sharing a scene with an actor capable of carrying even his weight.
Berenthal is very good as a conflicted ex-con trying to set his life straight and Sarandon is fun to watch in an unsympathetic role. There are also some nice turns by Barry Pepper as a ridiculously bearded DEA agent, Michael K. Williams as a mid-level street thug, and Benjamin Bratt as a cartel kingpin.
“Snitch” was directed by former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh, which makes sense because the movie feels like it was thrown off the top of a building while everyone involved hoped for the best.
For the most part, this film manages to land with minimal scrapes and bruising and makes for a passable movie-going experience, which for this time of year is as about as good as we can hope for.
“Snitch” is rated PG-13 for drug content and sequences of violence.