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Snitch movie poster




(22 Feb 2013)  Director: Ric Roman Waugh aka Ric Waugh

"I've been rollin' dice my whole life, might as well do it again."

Although there's really nothing to support this quote in the storyline (he has a successful business, big house, nice family), The Rock's character "John Matthews" risks the lives of his family (his wife and daughter, and his ex wife) to help get his son out of jail. You have to think, if Matthews hadn't done it, his son probably would have ended up dead. The movie brings to life in sharp, clear focus just how dangerous the war on drugs is. The movie is a look at both sides of the coin: The law's and the criminals'. Both are compelling. At one point, Jon Berthal's character, "Michael James", and Michael Kenneth Williams' character "Malik" share a moment "Two-strikers like us, we can't walk the street." That hits home hard because you've just seen Matthews' son's whole world turned upside down. One minute he's on his living room couch with his laptop, the next, he's in custody. They do a really good job of showing the law come down hard on him, imagine how hard it would be on a two-time offender.

The jist of the movie (as emphasized by the on-screen message at the end) is that the mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug trafficking are ridiculously harsh. The opening credits state: "Inspired by the [PBS] Frontline documentary 'Snitch'". How much of the story is true is kind of irrelevant. The movie makes its points.

Michael Kenneth James in Snitch movie 2013The first point is that, just like his son, The Rock's character, Matthews, is in over his head. I was really glad I had finally watched all the Prison Break episodes, because it sure helped with the jargon. The true-to-life fast-talking dialogue and slang gave the movie such authenticity, like "Ain't never had no eye on the grill before" and "You wouldn't be vouching for no fish if we were back in the yard."

One thing Prison Break couldn't do in four seasons that this movie did in less than a hour was to emphasize the danger. The fish-out-of-water element for Matthews with the drug dealers was as compelling as the two-strikes drug dealers and their situation in life.  One wrong move for any of them, and they could end up not just back in jail, but dead. The role of "Agent Cooper", played with heart and intensity by Barry Pepper, helped galvanize the situation with his assessments and his reactions. In cautioning Matthews, he calls the criminals "bloodhounds" because they can smell a lie or a bad situation. Just be yourself and hide in plain sight is his advice. What came to mind for me was piranha.

As Matthews gets deeper and deeper, the movie raised all kinds of questions about our "freedoms". If you have a trucking business and you want to drive somewhere, do you still need to go through the weigh stations whether or not you're carrying cargo? If you're carrying cargo, do you need to have a manifest going each way saying this is what I'm bringing from A to B and from B to A?  With all the regulations and laws around interstate traffic going through my mind, the movie takes a turn into an area with no laws. Once Matthews and James are off the beaten path, men emerge with big guns. Being who knows where like that, when a bunch of men appear with guns and you are unarmed, there are no laws. The law doesn't matter to them. We live in this illusion of safety . . . They live just outside the lines. The fact that you could take a wrong turn somewhere and be in the wrong place at the wrong time was never more evident.

Barry Pepper as Agent Cooper in SnitchIt was REALLY COOL to see The Rock in this out-of-character role. He was, of course, characteristically heroic and competent, but he came across not as the Action Figure but just a real-life (super-buff enormous) Dad who found himself flinching and scared when gunfire broke out, and  who was sensibly wary in spite of being unusually brave. He took a gun with him and used it when he had to, but it's not the G.I. Joe-ish rock-em sock-em roles he does so well. He was really good in this. It worked

Another great actor I came to see was Jon Bernthal. Losing him from The Walking Dead just killed the show for me.  Having been in trouble two times already, Bernthal's character, Michael James, has everything to lose. He has been trying to go straight. What makes a man risk everything for the promise of $20,000? I guess $20K to some people is like $200K to others. Does he just think it will take him so long to make that amount of money, that it's worthwhile? You kind of get this fatalistic sense from him that it's not going to go well (he'll be killed) but at least he will be able to leave the money for his wife and child. If we needed any more proof that his life is on the edge, James tells Matthews "If this comes down to either you or me, I will take your life." What the movie (and Bernthal's performance)  does really well with a kind of shorthand is show you the desperation of a man in James' position. He's strapped and he's trapped. Trapped in impoverished circumstances, by his lack of hope, and trapped by Matthews using him for his own purposes. One minute James is doing the right thing, the next, he's back in the deep end. Once they're in, they're in.

The first transaction raises more questions: How would they have gotten a police shooter into position with a gun so fast at the first hand-off of the drugs?  Matthews get paid—In real life, who keeps the money in these situations? Why would Matthews ever risk being seen going through the front door of the police station, or, to the Federal Prosecutor's office? Let alone be seen in public yelling at her and at Agent Cooper. And what was Agent Cooper doing at church (LOL)?

Agent Cooper uses an analogy to tell Matthews how deep the shit he's in is running the money across the border into Mexico: "This is one serious backpack you're about to carry."

Jon Bernthal in Snitch aiming a gunOne of life's most important lessons is often learned the hard way. I learned it from the movie Protocol starring Goldie Hawn:  "If you let a guy sell you a diamond ring for only ten cents, the chances are you own a diamond ring not worth a dime." Too many people think there's some easy answer and jump at the bait. Matthews jumps in with both feet and realizes too late where he is. It almost seems like he was thinking the law was just on paper, and then the next thing you know, he's staring down the barrel of a gun.

James on the other hand, doesn't want in, but he decides to help Matthews even without knowing about his son.  When he realizes Matthews is using him, there's no whining. He cuts right to the quick with the  "If this comes down to either you or me, I will take your life" line, and you know that's his reality. There's no whining in his world. It's do or die. Matthews mans up when he realizes he will probably not make it out alive. He makes a plan. James, who's back is completely against the wall, kills three people. It's almost expected . . . Somehow in the exchange between Malik and James you catch a glimpse of un-acted-on threats and unavoidable realities. You feel for drug dealers living on edge like that because their performances are so real and so compelling. He and James share a connection, therefore, you do too.

stacks of cashOne of the amazing things about this movie is the realization that it truly is a problem for drug dealers to transport their profits from the U.S. across the border. When you see that mountain of money, you know why so many people die in the drug war. It's so much money it begins to lose meaning. You understand the term "paper" in a whole new way.

There was a lot of criticism of this movie as not really Action. Although the Action doesn't start until almost the end, what there is is really good, old-school stuntwork. Stunt driving, lately, is really knocking my socks off. (The Last Stand is still fresh in my mind.) Good work Clay Cullen (Stunt Driver) and Scott Yarnell (listed as "Precision Driver"). Whereas A Good Day to Die Hard was a case of "so much Action, so little movie", this is a case of so much movie. You can't fault that.  It's a good movie.

The Action toward the end is worth the wait.  What would be the alternative? To have a crazy crash-em-up chase scene right off the bat like A Good Day to Die Hard that leaves you wondering . . . What the Hell? Invest me. I want to care why they are wrecking tons of cars and a semi.  Would I have liked more Action? Always, but not just for the sake of Action Like A Good Day to Die Hard.  Snitch is classified as Action, Drama, Thriller, and yes, it's 'all that'.

tractor trailer rig semi crash in movie Snitch 2013

fiery crash from Snitch movie 2013


[ Plus . . . it has Benjamin Bratt.  He wasn't in the movie that much, but he was good at being threatening and a little creepy. All women loved him after Miss Congeniality. I was hoping he'd have more of an Action Movie career but he moved into TV. ]


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