Dwayne Johnson has his best performance yet as a father fighting to save his son from a grave injustice.
Snitch focuses on the failed drug war and the consequences that mandatory sentences have on the families of those convicted. American prisons are filled with non-violent, first-time offenders that have been ensnared in this trap. Ric Roman Waugh has had a lot of experience in this world. He spent years working in the prison system and saw how lives were destroyed by this policy. He gained recognition with Felon, his first studio film, about a man wrongly convicted for murder. Snitch follows this thread of injustice, but highlights the larger social issues. A sub plot involves the ex-con Daniel (Bernthal) doing his best to live a clean life after early mistakes. He's trying to start over with his wife and son, but is drawn into Matthew's plan without realizing the endgame. The penalties for him would be much worse, life in prison if he gets caught. There's no easy choice for his character. It all adds up to more lives ruined because of one false act.
Snitch has a few action scenes, including the big Hollywood chase climax, but is much more a family drama. Dwayne Johnson has the biggest muscles in the film, but is not playing an action star. His John Matthews is very much a family man who cannot stand to see his son face this kind of punishment. When he sees the beatings his boy is taking behind bars, you understand his resolve to commit fully to getting him out. I liked the fact that Johnson doesn't play a tough guy, although he sure looks like one. This is the first serious dramatic performance from Johnson and he does a fine job.
My issues with Snitch concerns how it devolves into unnecessary action. It goes Hollywood when it could have had a tamer, more realistic conclusion. I guess you can't have a Dwayne Johnson film without car chases, gun fights, or massive explosions; but I believe the film didn't have to go this extreme to wrap up the story. Still, the film's commentary on the drug war and performances make up for any overblown action scene. Ric Roman Waugh proves he can tell a good story and get good performances from his cast. 2013 is the year of Dwayne Johnson with multiple big budget action films being released. I'd be surprised if his character work in those films is nearly as engaging as in Snitch.