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The Independent Critic

Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Rafi Gavron, Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, Benjamin Bratt
Ric Roman Waugh
Ric Roman Waugh, Justin Haythe
Rated PG-13
112 Mins.
Summit Entertainment

 "Snitch" Comes Close to Being a Surprisingly Good Film 
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To those of us who've been watching Dwayne Johnson's acting career since day one, it's not particularly surprising that the former professional wrestler turned actor very nearly turns Snitch into an incredibly fine film.

While many former and current wrestlers have tried to go the Hollywood route, few have experienced critical and commercial success on the level of Johnson. Johnson has become a master and balancing his acting career, remaining faithful to his "bread and butter" action films while also becoming a dependable regular in a host of formulaic yet popular family films.

While he's not yet knocking on the door of the Oscars, Johnson's appearance in Snitch may be one of his most satisfying yet as he weaves together everything that audiences love about him as an action star and puts it together with an emotionally resonant turn as a father determined to do whatever it takes to get his son out of a harrowing situation. While the film sort of wimps out on its emotional complexity towards the end, Snitch is that rare action film where you remember the characters and the story more than you do the film's fair-to-middling PG-13 rated action sequences.

The film's premise is simple. A father (Johnson) goes undercover for the DEA in order to free his son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), who was set up in a drug deal gone bad. Jason is facing 10 years, but the U.S. Attorney (Susan Sarandon) will reduce his sentence if he gives up someone else. He refuses, but dad comes to the rescue by agreeing to act as an informant and infiltrating one seriously badass drug cartel.

Rather than have this be just another "The Rock kicks butt" kind of film, co-writer and director Ric Roman Waugh has fashioned an action-packed film that is also smarter than you'd expect and filled to the brim, at least until towards the end, with realistic details and believable scenarios. In this film, we get Dwayne Johnson rather than  "The Rock," adding a refreshing realism to a character who is gripping because he's vulnerable and he's vulnerable because he's a shipping company owner rather than some war veteran or embittered cop or someone along those lines.

Because Waugh plays down the violence, this is PG-13 rated, the emotional resonance is even more satisfying as we almost move more into the realm of action/thriller rather than simply Johnson's usual hardcore action flick where he transcends realism as a rule. As John Matthews, Johnson is playing a man in over his head after a career spent playing characters who are seldom out of control.

It helps that the majority of the supporting players are also immensely satisfying. Once he agrees to the deal offered by Sarandon's Joanne Keeghan, Matthews leans on an employer and ex-con (Jon Bernthal) to help him find a way into the network. That finally happens when he's offered a drug run by a middling dealer (Michael Kenneth Williams) who's more than a little on the edge himself.

Bernthal does a tremendous job here, embodying the moral turmoil felt by a man who is genuinely trying to stay clean while also trying to do the right thing. As the middling drug dealer, Michael Kenneth Williams pretty much steals every scene he's in with an emotion and force that makes you really examine how you feel about it. While it says much about the film that an actress the caliber of Susan Sarandon would commit to the project, it's Sarandon's role that feels the least satisfying and one-note. While she does what she can with her material, there's only so many places she can go with a steely and self-serving U.S. Attorney who is blinded by her own political ambitions. In a relatively brief appearance, Benjamin Bratt does a nice job of the cartel's kingpin.

D.P. Dana Gonzales keeps the camera work tight and suspenseful, while Antonio Pinto's original score is far better than you'd ever expect in an action film.

Unfortunately, what was well on the way to a solid "B" or even "B+" rating starts to whimper out towards the end as Waugh starts to let go of the gripping story and detours his way into fairly stereotypical action genre sequences that aren't remotely impressive enough to justify such a formulaic ending to an otherwise involving and promising film.

Hollywood directors take notice. Dwayne Johnson is clearly ready to tackle more complex cinematic fare, giving us all hope that he won't travel back to Tooth Fairy 3.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic