In the underrated “Faster,” Dwayne Johnson — the wrestler also known as “The Rock” — showed that a rock could cry. He played a morally complex character painted in shades of gray and pulled it off nicely.
In the new “Snitch,” he tries for a similarly layered hero and proves he’s no fluke. But he also proves that every good performer and every good story needs an equally good director. Ric Roman Waugh, a former stuntman on “Lethal Weapon 2,” the original “Total Recall” and “Gone in 60 Seconds,” isn’t quite it.
Ironically, for a stunt person, Waugh’s action scenes in “Snitch” are choppy, and the suspense builds roughly, although the characters do stand out as three-dimensional humans with inner lives.
In this “inspired by true events” film, Johnson plays John Matthews. The owner of a big construction firm, he is divorced and has a new wife and daughter.
Jason (Rafi Gavron), his son from his previous marriage who unwisely agrees to accept a package “just for a day,” brings down the wrath of the Drug Enforcement Administration and gets arrested, facing at least 10 years in prison.
John learns the sentence could be reduced if Jason cuts a deal and snitches on known drug dealers.
The trouble is, Jason doesn’t know any drug dealers. So John enlists an employee, two-time felon Daniel James (Jon Bernthal), to introduce him to that dark world.
He also agrees to work with a sharp, severe, self-promoting politician (Susan Sarandon) and a grungy, bearded DEA agent (Barry Pepper) to help catch the bad guys.
Eventually, his plan leads him to a big-time drug lord known as “El Topo” (Benjamin Bratt). Of course, it also involves shootouts and chases, all handled with rudimentary displays of style and grace. These scenes — not the social commentary about the brutal unfairness of drug laws — are what make the movie seem long and heavy.
The filmmakers don’t seem to fully understand, or care, about nuances of a civilian becoming involved in complicated drug busts.
“Snitch” calls up comparisons to “Argo,” another inspired-by-true events story, which, aided by Ben Affleck’s crisp direction, seems more plausible.
Yet while “Snitch” isn’t in “Argo’s” league, its smaller, quieter moments instill hope that Johnson can stretch even further and become worthy of much stronger material.