Iâ€™m supposed to be writing a review for "Snitch," the latest action thriller starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but thereâ€™s only one thing on my mind: a beard.
The tuft of hair belongs to Barry Pepper's chin, and it is admittedly mesmerizing. Itâ€™s a grungy-looking goatee that hangs two or three inches off Pepperâ€™s face and sharpens into a point. Every camera angle provides some new fascinating detail, and even when it seems the beard has worn out its welcome, Pepper ties it into a tight little ponytail for varietyâ€™s sake.
Pepperâ€™s mangy Van Dyke beard would be more at home in something like "True Grit" or "The Road." Iâ€™m more than thankful, however, that writer/director Ric Roman Waugh thought it was necessary because itâ€™s one of the only interesting things "Snitch" has to offer. Everything else is dull, drab and surprisingly preachy.
Johnson plays John Matthews, the ridiculously buff owner of a construction supply business and an all-around good guy. His fairly calm life takes a turn for the worse when his son Jason (Rafi Gavron) is mistakenly arrested in a drug sting with his friendâ€™s drugs and faces at least 10 years in prison thanks to the mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
The police offer to shorten Jasonâ€™s sentence if he helps them set up and arrest another dealer, but since heâ€™s not an actual dealer and not even really a user, he has no one to turn in. Plus, he doesnâ€™t want to set up an innocent guy â€“ like his friend did to him.
While Jason languishes in prison, Matthews volunteers to do the snitching in the place of his son. The election-minded U.S. Attorney (Susan Sarandon) takes the deal, and Matthews plots to entrap a local dealer (Michael K. Williams, Omar from "The Wire") with the reluctant help of one of his ex-con workers (Joe Bernthal from "The Walking Dead").
The desperate dadâ€™s plan might be too good, however, as he gets deep enough to start doing favors for a dangerous kingpin (Benjamin Bratt).
Much of "Snitch" plays as an indictment on the mandatory minimum laws and the sad realities of the countryâ€™s war on drugs. Every time we see Jason in prison â€“ with increasing amounts of bruising â€“ Antonio Pintoâ€™s score hammers on the sad violins, most of the government officials are uncooperative or self-serving and thereâ€™s a good deal of dialogue dedicated to the injustice of Jasonâ€™s sentencing.
I give Waugh and his co-writer Justin Haythe credit for attempting to give some weight to what appears to be a generic thriller, but the film is more noble than successful. The script simplifies the complicated mandatory minimum discussion into an unfortunately preachy sermon. A better look into the topic can be found in Eugene Jareckiâ€™s documentary "The House I Live In."
When it comes to the plot, the dialogue doesnâ€™t fare much better. It isnâ€™t offensively bad â€“ maybe a bit reliant on clichÃ©s Ââ€“ but itâ€™s lethally dull. Thereâ€™s no color or character to the conversations, which instead just drably move "Snitch" from scene to scene.
Waughâ€™s pacing aims for procedural drama, but it collides uncomfortably with the movieâ€™s Hollywoodization. I love Dwayne Johnson â€“ he has the charisma of Schwarzenegger combined with a touch of genuine acting talent â€“ but his role here isnâ€™t right for the former wrestling star. Itâ€™s hard to be convinced heâ€™s a vulnerable everyman in a realistic drama when his physicality and presence lords over every other character on screen. Brattâ€™s drug lord isnâ€™t much of a threat when Johnson looks like he could snap him in half without breaking a sweat.
Thatâ€™s not to say Johnson turns in a bad performance in "Snitch." Heâ€™s technically fine, but itâ€™s hard to find his effortless charisma underneath the characterâ€™s blandness and the filmâ€™s preachy importance. No one else in the cast fares much better except for Williams, who brings a slithery menace that reminds viewers why their friends keep pestering them to watch "The Wire."
Since it is a Johnson vehicle, there must inevitably be some action, too. Unfortunately, it doesnâ€™t happen until the last act and plays rather limply. Waugh is a believer in shaky cam, which makes the end freeway chase a typical mess of edits.
Worst of all, the action sequences feel entirely out of place with the rest of the film. Itâ€™s a silly shift from serious realistic drama to dumb overblown blow-â€˜em-up that fits as smoothly as a musical number at the end of "Zero Dark Thirty." A scene involving Johnson standing in front of rows of guns is one of the movieâ€™s biggest laughs, just because itâ€™s the official moment "Snitch" kisses reality goodbye and sets sail aboard the S.S. Ridiculous.
The film doesnâ€™t appear to have the confidence or conviction to follow through on its "true story" and instead goes for action movie heroics and a Hollywood ending.
Then again, the writersâ€™ conviction to the overall true story (originally reported by "Frontline") is pretty weak. James Settembrino is the real-life father, and his attempt to get his entrapped son out of prison featured no flipped semis. Settembrino had a drug bust set up with the government, but the arrangement fell through, and his son still served the time. So only about 15 minutes of "Snitch" is based on reality; the other 97 minutes are purely hypothetical.
Iâ€™d like to think Barry Pepperâ€™s beard was real though.Â
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Aug. 26, 2016
OnMilwaukee caught up with comedian and "Silicon Valley" star T.J. Miller - while he was in a cornfield, natch - before his upcoming Milwaukee set to chat about working with Steven Spielberg, dying painfully (in movies) and why he loves Appleton.
Published Aug. 26, 2016
This morning, the Bucks and Froedtert & MCW announced they will develop two new health-oriented facilities in Downtown Milwaukee: a new practice and training facility, as well as medical office building and health center for the near North Side.
Published Aug. 25, 2016
Today, County Executive Chris Abele released a statement in the hopes of clarifying Milwaukee County's stance on Pokemon Go. It's fairly identical to what his office and the Parks Department said yesterday - just this time, with a lot of puns.
Published Aug. 24, 2016
The year 2016 has seen some powerful, earth-shattering tiffs in just its eight months, and now our city has a pop cultural beef of its own: Pokemon Go versus the Milwaukee County Parks Department. OnMilwaukee spoke to players and the Parks director for reaction.
Published Aug. 23, 2016
It's never been easier to know about breaking news as it's happening on the ground - and then share that news with others. But the facts can easily become polluted with ever more convincing half-truths, lies and oftentimes simple confusion.
Published Aug. 23, 2016
This morning, the Milwaukee Film Festival announced its latest program lineup, this time for the homegrown Cream City Cinema category. From docs to music videos to dramas to shorts and more, here's what to expect at this year's fest.
Published Aug. 17, 2016
Beginning Friday night, the inaugural Milwaukee Women's Film Festival will present a three-day big screen showcase for women's stories. The project, created by Andrea Thompson, started with a simple question: What are you doing?
Published Aug. 12, 2016
A federal judge today overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey, who was found guilty of being an accessory to Teresa Halbach's 2005 murder and served as one of the subjects in the hit Netflix docu-series "Making a Murderer."
Published Aug. 10, 2016
The first stage on which actor JJ Phillips stood and spoke Shakespeare was the Cabot Theater. About two decades later, Phillips is returning to that exact stage - except more as barely clothed bro than Bard in Chamber's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike."
Published Aug. 9, 2016
Henry "The Fonz" Winkler is in Milwaukee today for tomorrow night's Wisconsin State Fair "Happy Days: Live" main stage show. So what does The Fonz do to kill some time in the city that helped make him famous? We'll give you one guess.