“Snitch” stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as John Matthews, a construction business owner and the father of two children: a son from a previous marriage and a young daughter from his current marriage. However, it’s a few minutes before we meet Dad.
The fun begins when Jason (Rafi Gavron), John’s son, decides to accept a formidable shipment of Ecstasy from a friend who’s a drug dealer. Jason isn’t a drug dealer, but that small detail doesn’t matter to the DEA, who bust Jason the moment he signs for the package. For Jason — a regular, underachieving kid who’s barely smoked pot — the arrest is devastating, in no small part because sentencing laws are about to lock him up for a minimum ten years. The government offers him a deal if he’ll rat out other drug dealers, but Jason, good kid that he is, doesn’t know any.
The first sign that “Snitch” isn’t going to be your typical Dwayne Johnson action movie is when the former wrestling star flexes his acting muscles during the scene in which Jason’s defense attorney explains what Jason is up against. Johnson follows this up with emotional visits to the jail where his son is being bullied and beaten while behind bars. Johnson isn’t just going through the motions. You can literally see the pain in his eyes.
John, using his business influence, arranges a meeting with politically ambitious federal prosecutor Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) and offers to help bust drug dealers in exchange for leniency for Jason. At first, Keeghan dismisses the idea but John — a determined father who loves his son and may be feeling a bit guilty about the emotional repercussions Jason experienced after divorcing his mother — will not be deterred.
John recruits an ex-con to help him find a drug dealer he can reel in for the DEA. His target is a hard-working Latino man named Daniel James, played by Jon Bernthal. Daniel has two strikes against him and a wife and a young son he adores. He’s desperately trying to keep his nose clean but John offers him 20 grand to help him — enough for Daniel to move his family out of his neighborhood of gang-bangers and bad influences on his son.
Just about everything in “Snitch” works. This is a refreshing action film grounded in realism, with an excellent, powerful message about maximum/minimum sentencing laws for first-time offenders. It’s also a revelation for Johnson — after all of these years of playing beefy, affable action stars, clearly The Rock has been evolving into an excellent actor who could carve out a more artistically satisfying niche for himself than the superficial, albeit occasionally entertaining, tripe he’s normally associated with.
Four out of five stars.