Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Rock Gives Dramatic Acting a Shot & It's Actually Not Bad!: Our Review of "Snitch" (2013)

Directed By: Ric Roman Waugh (Felon

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon

Rating: PG-13 for drug content and sequences of violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

Synopsis: John Matthew's (Johnson) son, Jason, gets busted for drug possession after Jason's best friend sets him up in order to get his own sentence reduced. When Jason refuses to do the same, John offers himself as an informant to the US Attorney (Sarandon) to get Jason's time reduced. Teaming up with an employee of his with a drug past (Bernthal) and a crusty DEA agent (Pepper), John delves into the drug world and risks everything he has to get his son free.


Andrew: Hello readers! Earlier this week Sarah and I were able to get to the movie theatre (no small feat these days with the college basketball season winding down), and out of all the not-so-appetizing choices the multiplex was offering, we ordered two tickets for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's (Fast Five) latest film, Snitch. Based on a true story apparently, it's the tale of a man named John Matthews who becomes a drug informant for the Feds in order to get his son's jail sentence reduced.

It's one that, for me at least, I only saw the trailer once...

Sarah: Same here.

A: And so it wasn't one that we knew a whole lot about going in to.

S: Like we didn't know that it was based on a true story. This one really wasn't on our radar at all as far as movies we intended to see at the theatre.

A: Exactly. But there's not a whole lot of movies out right now that we haven't already seen and that appeal to us...

S: And March should yield some better flicks...

A: But we wanted to see a movie and we chose to see this one because we like Dwayne Johnson and I had been hearing some relatively good things about it. Now that we've seen Snitch, what did you think of it?

S: It wasn't bad! I like the overall premise of it, and I'll always love a good drug cartel movie, like Blow or Savages. I actually wish there had been more of that aspect, though. I felt like a lot of the film was setting itself up for a big drug bust and then the big bust was actually kind of anticlimactic. There's a pretty good car chase involving a semi-truck, but everything else was...I don't know.

I was more looking forward to what they had originally planned for John, where he was supposed to go across the border into Mexico. Because it's really a drug bust gone wrong, but I wish they had gone with the one that was seemingly being set up.

But I thought Snitch was good! I respect that Dwayne is trying to branch out from his normal muscle flicks and kids films. I find it a little...unbelievable just because Dwayne Johnson walks into a room and immediately becomes an impressive figure in any kind of space, so I find it hard to believe that nobody seemed to mention that in the course of the movie. No one goes, "Whoa, you're a big fella," or anything like that.

There's a scene where John tries his hand at trying to buy drugs for the first time and he's beat up by a bunch of guys that probably come up to his shoulders, and I had a little bit of a hard time believing that he couldn't take them on. I mean, they had guns, sure, but they were more like beating him up than anything. I just had a hard time believing he couldn't defend himself.

That said, I was entertained!

A: Okay, good, because that was actually going to be my next question.

S: Yeah, I was definitely entertained. But what did you think of Snitch?

A: I thought it was actually pretty good. It was certainly better than I expected it to be, because the trailers make it out to be like...The Rock is this bad-ass dad who's going to infiltrate the cartel and crush some skulls. But what it turns out to be is - and this is where I differ a little bit from your take on Dwayne being a little unbelievable - I thought from the get-go that his character is never the strong guy in the room. He may be physically imposing, but he's not outgoingly aggressive.

S: He's really not, you're right.

A: And there are people like that! There are people who are big or large and while they may look tough it turns out that they wouldn't hurt a fly and might not even know how to.

S: I think it's just because maybe we know him as this huge, tough, aggressive guy that I just couldn't wrap my head around him being anything but that. I mean, any guy his size can swing an arm and probably take out a couple of guys even if he's docile like a lamb.

A: But even in the scene, and this is a digression, but the scene where he does get beat up there's like 5 to 7 guys, he's caught off guard, he's trying to not get robbed, so...

S: I know, I get what you mean.

A: But so I like that Dwayne is playing this role and I think the strength of the movie is how they portrayed character and Jon Bernthal's (AMC's The Walking Dead) Daniel. I like that they took the time to really show us who these guys are. They're family men, they are truly concerned with for their kids, they will do what is necessary to do or not to do. And the film actually took a while before the actual snitching came in. It was really a slow burn. There's not a whole lot of action. When there is action it's pretty hard, but they took their time, they paced it out and I liked that. It was a slower burn, which I didn't expect, and I like this movie for that.

It reminded me a bit of Lawless where it played itself out, took it's time...

S: Yeah and that's a great way to put it, this movie played itself out. I didn't feel there was anything rushed until maybe the very end. I felt like the climax was a little rushed, but until then it wasn't. You felt the progression of the movie pretty well.

A: And it's not a cheesy action movie. There very easily could have made this a bad Nicolas Cage movie or something...

S: Or they could have made a very-much stereotypical Rock movie, and they didn't.

A: Yes. So I liked it for that. I liked that we got a feel for why these guys were doing what they were going to do. I liked Barry Pepper's (Broken City) DEA agent - he's this hardened soldier in the war on drugs, he's seen a lot of things and he knows the truth behind a lot of stuff.  I liked that he's trying to help John, but do his own job at the same time. I liked the dynamic there.

S: I want to point out that this movie has a fantastic cast! It has Chalky White from Boardwalk Empire...

A: A.k.a. Michael K. Williams...

S: We love him! He's a fantastic actor, and he plays a slumlord really well in this movie. Then you have Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality) as the leader of the drug cartel, and I know the movie wasn't really about them, but I wish we had seen more of Williams and Bratt's characters. I love it when the bad guys are perfectly cast and Benjamin Bratt was totally believable in his role, and Williams is great at this type of role.

A: I'd have to imagine they had more scenes that were shot and left on the cutting-room floor, that's just the feeling I got, but at the same time...

S: The movie isn't about them.

A: Exactly, and I liked that. Like there could have been more,  but it might have taken away from the true focus of the film, and it might have lent itself to the movie being like, "Okay, here are the BAD guys doing BAD things..." which could've made them out to be larger than life criminals, and instead...

S: They're very believable in the finished product. They're very straight, cut and dry.

A: And a lot of this movie is like that, and I liked that. I don't know how much of this movie is truly realistic, but it seemed realistic and I liked feeling like I could relate to Dwayne's character. He's very out of place, he's NOT an informant so when he's doing these things he's completely out of his element and I thought they brought some good tension out of that. I was on the edge of my seat a number of times or I was at least feeling nervous for him.

The one thing I didn't like about Snitch was the camerawork. From the get-go I didn't like the camerawork.

S: I felt like the camerawork was a little cheesy. Whereas the story wasn't really cheesy, I thought the camerawork really was. The director loved doing this shot of putting the camera on the front of a car looking across the grill and I couldn't stand it.

A: Yeah, director Ric Roman Waugh used that shot at least three different times...

S: Which was three times too many for me. Like, I don't understand why he did that. Maybe the first time didn't really bother me but I definitely noticed it. But keep doing it? All that shot sets up is that they're driving. It doesn't show the audience where the characters are, and I thought it was actually kind of disorienting.

A: That particular camera shot was just one in a succession of shots that I thought were poor choices. Bu to be fair there were some good shots, like the very first shot in the movie. The first shot is John Matthews talking on his phone in his office as he's looking out one window at his employees working outside, then the camera follows him as he walks across his office to look out a different window that looks out into the warehouse. So we saw the outside and we saw the inside...

S: It was a really good establishing shot, for sure. 

A: Exactly! But THEN it cuts to a really wide shot where John is sitting at his desk and you can see his entire office, but it makes you feel like you're really far away from him...

S: Which felt really impersonal.

A: So there were times where I was like, "That's a great shot," and then there were times where I was like, "Ehhh, not so much," like if it became a shaky-cam out of nowhere. And then for some reason, about two-thirds of the way through the film when stuff really started to go down, I don't know what it was and maybe it was just me, but the movie honestly looked like it switched to a different frame rate because all of a sudden everything looked too clear to me. Or I was noticing the camera movements too well. It was weird. 

S: I think that was just you because I'm extremely sensitive to things like that, too, and I didn't notice it at all.

A: Maybe. I don't know what it was, but I'm not going to knock the movie down for that because it probably was just me. That said, whatever switched in me or the way the film was presented, it heightened the shaky-cam in my eyes and it stayed that way.

S: Overall the cinematography just wasn't impressive. It was a little flat.

A: Considering how much of this was an everyman movie and tried to keep things low-key, the camera work, at times, took me out of that element. But overall I liked it!

S: Yeah! I was entertained, and really that's all you can ask for when going to the theatre on a boring Monday night.

A: Oh! I wanted to make sure I pointed out how much I liked Jon Bernthal as Daniel, which is saying something for me because I didn't like him a whole lot when he was on The Walking Dead, but I liked him here because, just like Dwayne, he played a good father figure. 

S: I loved that they established, without coming right out and saying it, that when John goes to Daniel to see about getting him an introduction to the drug world, that was Daniel's true introduction. I liked that Daniel was the second part of a two-man job, and that we didn't really need to hear his entire backstory in order to establish who he was. Instead I liked that they did it in an evenly paced way and didn't just rush his introduction.

I thought he did a nice job of briefly but clearly establishing both family dynamics without droning on. Because I felt it all sets up with John's son, Jason, getting in trouble and I didn't really care for Jason's character. I felt like he was definitely a guy who would get beat up in jail because he's a bit of a weenie...

A: Yes he's a weenie, and yes he made a mistake in the beginning of the film that led to him getting arrested, but I like that Jason mans up and owns up to his mistake. For the readers, in case they haven't read it beforehand, the idea is that John's son gets busted for drugs when his best friend ships the drugs to him from overseas so the friend doesn't have to fly with them. But it turns out that the friend had already been busted by the feds and snitched on his friend and set Jason up to reduce his own sentence. In turn, the feds go to Jason and offer him the same deal and Jason says he's not going to set up an innocent person just to reduce his own sentence. He won't do to other people what his friend did to him.

So A.) I thought that showed good character for the Jason character, because I'd like to believe that there truly are some people out there that would do the same thing. Since this is "inspired by a true story," I'd like to believe whoever this is based on decided he wouldn't set someone up like he had been. And B.) I think it's bullcrap that the government actually offers deals like that. They literally tell Jason, "Hey, if you have friends that MAYBE could be drug dealers, we can catch them through you and get your sentence reduced!" I think that's total b.s.

S: I agree. Okay, let's wrap this up. I found Snitch to be fairly entertaining for an end-of-February movie. We've had some of these "Dumpuary" months with some hidden gems and some pieces of crap. This could be one of those gems.

A: I just liked that it's not your usual Dwayne Johnson movie.

S: It's impressive. He's NOT a bad actor and I think people still discredit him for being muscle, I know I do. And he proved me wrong a little bit here with his dramatic chops. The Rock can actually act! Who knew?!

A: So then last thoughts?

S: If you're looking for a good drama that has a touch of action in it, I'd say see this in theatres. Other than Oscar-nominated movies that are still in theatres there's really not a whole lot out there worth seeing, so I'd say give this one a chance.

FINAL VERDICT: A good way to kill a Saturday afternoon!

(Individual Scores - S: 3.5/5  A: 3.5/5)

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