Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Snitch

When Dwayne Johnson made the transition from wrestler to actor, he preserved a default expression of intense, directed focus. Onscreen or in the ring, Johnson is a man of action, a blunt weapon accustomed to pursuing his goals in the most direct manner imaginable. But the mildly overachieving B-movie Snitch immerses him in a shadowy world where every step he takes to extricate his family from a perilous situation just makes the situation worse. He’s a good man, albeit a flawed, redemption-hungry one, in a bind that seems to grow more hopeless by the moment. Yet just when it appears that Johnson is down for the count, that his dad-of-action can’t possibly survive, he makes a stunning comeback. It turns out wrestling and cinema aren’t so different after all: They’re just two different sweaty, testosterone-soaked forms of hyper-masculine storytelling.

Johnson, who also produced, stars as a father and successful small-business owner who remarried and moved into a snazzy new mansion, leaving his ex-wife and college-bound son to struggle financially and emotionally in his absence. When his son gets busted accepting a shipment of ecstasy pills, Johnson is angry, but also guilty about his part-time parenting. So in a daring move, he turns informant for calculating, pragmatic prosecutor Susan Sarandon by posing as a businessman out to save his failing business by transporting massive shipments of drugs and money. Johnson hopes to win a reduced sentence for his son if he succeeds in bringing down a kingpin or two.

Snitch groans out of the gate. It’s the kind of clunky, exposition-heavy action movie where the protagonist learns about drug cartels by typing “drug cartel” into Wikipedia. But it builds into a moderately engaging character study of men driven to dangerous extremes by desperation, including Jon Bernthal, an ex-con employee of Johnson’s roped into assisting the boss’ descent into drug-running and money-laundering. Snitch begins to find itself with the arrival of Michael K. Williams as a drug dealer who embodies a fascinating, contradictory combination of viciousness and vulnerability. He’s a killer, but he’s also an ex-con living in primal fear of a third strike that will put him away for good, the same fear that motivates Bernthal. Snitch toys with moral ambiguity and fatalism before losing its nerve and delivering the action-movie goods in a climax that hews closer to fantasy than the keenly observed realism of the film’s solid center. Johnson is a consummate entertainer, and he’s adept at giving audiences what they want, even if it’s ultimately to his film’s detriment.