Thursday, February 21, 2013
"I just wanna see The Rock be The Rock."
Thus spaketh my neighbor a couple of seats over at the screening of "Snitch," where she and her companion commented -- loudly and frequently -- upon their views of the new movie starring Dwayne Johnson, formerly known as professional wrestler The Rock.
I don't know where these amateur Eberts came from or how they came to be sitting in the press row, but I think she was actually speaking for a lot of people who won't like this movie. Specifically, those who think Johnson and people who look like him should only make big, dumb action movies in which they deliver a quip after blowing some guy away.
You see, "Snitch" is not that sort of the film. It stars Dwayne Johnson, not The Rock, and features Johnson straining to reach for something higher and more honest as an actor ... and succeeding.
It's a gritty drama, not an action movie, and Johnson is playing a regular guy instead of a Superman. When somebody points a gun in his face, he's frozen with terror. While the villains strut and sneer, he cowers and quakes.
Johnson never takes off his shirt, intimidates anyone with his size, and about the only thing he says in anger is to holler at his wife, "Are the sprinklers on?!?"
The film, ably directed by Ric Roman Waugh from a screenplay he co-wrote with Justin Haythe, is based on a true story that was featured on a PBS documentary. It's about a father who will go to any ends to help his son, including breaking the law and putting the rest of his family at risk.
John Matthews is a successful Missouri businessman in the construction/trucking industry. He lives in a big house, has a beautiful wife and daughter, and seems to have few worries. But then his teenage son from a previous marriage, Jason (Rafi Gavron), gets busted for distribution of Ecstasy.
The kid's not a drug dealer, just a sap who got rolled by his friend. But the federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) says she's bound by minimum-sentence laws that could put John's son away until AARP age. She'll only reduce his prison term if Jason snitches on another drug pusher, which he refuses to do.
So John takes it upon himself to bring down a big-time dealer on his own. His first effort ends in disaster, but he gets craftier. He recruits one of his employees, Daniel (Jon Bernthal), who did time for drugs, offering $10,000 to make an introduction to some of his old contacts.
This leads to an increasingly dangerous climb up the ladder of the narcotics chain of command, from local kingpin Malik (a sly, charismatic Michael Kenneth Williams) to Mexican cartel boss (Benjamin Bratt).
Intending it to be a one-and-down deal, John finds himself cornered between the drug lords on the one hand and the politically ambitious prosecutor on the other. Meanwhile, Daniel suspects his motives, Malik starts dropping by John's house to terrorize his family, and even the undercover cop (Barry Pepper) handling the case drops hints that maybe he's in too deep.
Johnson does eventually get to do some Rock-ish things toward the end, but he does so in duress rather than out of any sense of righteous rage. These perilous scenes are all the more convincing because his character is ordinary and exposed.
In her own way and without really intending to do so, my loudmouthed, erstwhile fellow critic has delivered a much more brilliant review of "Snitch" than I ever could. For someone like her, this movie could only a letdown, which should be a hint for the rest of us.
3 stars out of four