*1/2 (out of 5)
February 22, 2013
Dwayne Johnson as JOHN MATTHEWS
Barry Pepper as AGENT COOPER
Jon Bernthal as DANIEL JAMES
Susan Sarandon as JOANNE KEEGHAN
Michael K. Williams as MALIK
Rafi Gavron as JASON COLLINS
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
For the better part of a decade, I have been complaining about Hollywood’s liberal use of “Based on a True Story.” Even worse, as I’ve pointed out before, is the almost nonsensical label of “Inspired by True Events.” That latter description is meaningless, and by its own distancing of being based on a true story, it’s a bit of an admission that most of the story is completely made up.
Case in point: “Snitch.” The story is inspired from an episode of PBS’s “Frontline” newsmagazine show that dates back to January 1999. (Read about the original story here.) The story highlights the potentially inequitable prison sentences that some first-time drug offenders endure compared to greater offenders, as well as how they are encouraged to reduce the sentence by snitching on other dealers.
That’s the nugget of truth in this preposterous, thoroughly unrealistic scenery-chewing drama masquerading as an action movie.
In the film, Dwayne Johnson plays John Matthews, whose son Jason (Rafi Gavron) has been set-up by his drug-dealing friend. In an attempt to reduce the 10-year prison sentence likely to be thrust upon his son, John takes it upon himself to bust other drug dealers and turn them into the authorities. When John starts to get deeper into the drug ring, he is asked to take on a greater and more dangerous role.
I am not a drug dealer. I do not work for the DEA. I have no law degree, and I don’t know the minutia of how this business works. However, so much of this movie doesn’t pass the smell test. This happens with so-called “inspired by true events” stories when the reality is twisted enough to fit a simple script that it just doesn’t seem believable.
For example, Jason is arrested after being sent a box of ecstasy pills. Sure, he has possession, but can they prove intent? Can it be proved that by simply signing for a package that he is, indeed, accepting it. The concepts of due process and building an actual defense with an actual lawyer are completely ignored. All this is done to give the audience a chilling “This could happen to anyone” feeling, but it just doesn’t wash.
But regardless of the leaps in logic and ludicrous set-up, “Snitch” tries to be too much and ends up being nothing.
It’s billed as an action movie, and it gets away with it having Dwayne Johnson as the star and two or three action scenes to cut into a trailer. However, it’s not an action movie. It’s a strained character drama. There are long, plodding moments of contemplation and talking. The movie also features an unprecedented five scenes in a row of characters yelling at each other. That tops even “Point Break” for absurd yelling dialogue.
So in this sense, it doesn’t even work as a drama, either. I had no respect or sympathy for the character. Look, I’m sorry if you get busted with a bag of enough drugs to kill a rhino, but this is not normal behavior for anyone. It’s the behavior of a drug dealer. In the original story, the kid arranges for the delivery of 1000 doses of PCP. On my worst day, I could barely scrape together 1000 doses of Advil. Don’t deal in such ridiculously criminal amounts of such a substance and then whine to me about being put in jail for it.
Finally, this movie also tries to be a politically progressive film that delivers a message about the inherent problems with mandatory minimum sentences. However, it’s murky focus and cavalier attitude makes you forget that it’s even trying to make a point until the final title card declares how drug dealers are punished more than rapists, murderers and child molesters. (I still don’t know if this calls for lesser punishment for drug dealers or more punishment for violent offenders… though that point is really moot given it’s a message at the end of a weak movie.)
So while I like Dwayne Johnson and would like to see his career get back on track, I wouldn’t push this movie on anyone.