With Snitch, a reasonably decent drug-world suspense story about moral quandaries, family values, and Mack truck fever, Dwayne Johnson continues his effort to move past life as the hulking badass good guy in his guise as “The Rock.” Still, he walks the walk and talks the talk of an action man with a higher level of dramatic dignity this time around, playing a father who devises an elaborate and dangerous drug-running scheme and braves the deadly ire of a Mexican drug cartel to save his falsely accused son.
Despite the action genre–fired sequences, the pulpy knot-tightening plot, and the seedy den of evil characters, this film was at least partly inspired by a real-world situation. Co-screenwriter Justin Haythe spun off of a Frontline documentary on a government program to encourage — or even implicitly force — those imprisoned on drug charges to testify against others, sometimes at the expense of actual justice. The circle of snitching, and the refusal of our hero’s son to play the game, is, ironically, what draws him (and us) into an ever more pernicious rabbit hole of villainy. Layers of nastiness are cleverly laid out among the pecking order of criminals, from the well-meaning ex-con (Jon Bernthal) to dealers of varying drug kingpinning seriousness — yet also sometimes with families to support, an underlying theme here.
As John Matthews, Johnson does a fine job in a role more challenging than his usual blustery thug types, although he tends to be outshined in scenes with Susan Sarandon, as a tough federal prosecutor, and the scraggly, streetwise DEA operative, played by a charismatic and charmingly unkempt Barry Pepper. Among other things, Snitch takes its place in the subgenre of films in which speeding 18-wheelers take on the role of weapons and means of menace and also deliverance — a small and select body of films that includes Steven Spielberg’s micro-masterpiece Duel. Of course, in that film the truck driver in question remains a mystery, as does his motive of terror. In Snitch, the reckless driver is driven by a powerful means to an end, even if it means witness-protection-program time.