Often chunky dialogue dilutes this surprisingly straight drama, a film ill-prepared by its action extravaganza trailers. Dwayne Johnson is John Matthews, a successful businessman in construction when his son is incarcerated for trafficking ecstasy. A parable for mandatory minimum sentencing ensues, Matthews’ son facing 10 years for accepting a shipment sent from a close friend.
The only out? Snitching for the US government. In conjunction with a scuzzy US attorney – in the game solely for political achievement – Matthews agrees to work as a drug runner in exchange for his son’s reduced sentence.
This involves local, small time thugs, limited in their scope, in addition to sprawling cartels. Matthews is cautious and tepid, Johnson’s performance often reserved with hints of panic. His cold distance with his ex-wife feels genuine, carrying over into disdain as he is forced into relenting to dealers.
Director Ric Roman Waugh showcases plotted camera work, careful in its movement as to never give away presence. Snitch is determined to be voyeuristic, detailing pitted interiors of rotting drug cartel homesteads or ghetto havens for illicit trafficking. Snitch is focused on breaking down layers of minimum sentencing politics while depicting reasons for such laws. Material is wishy washy in terms of its loosely threaded messaging.
Johnson is given reprieve from his routine run of body slams and shattered tables, instead delivering imposing looks that eschew the “everyman” facade. Casting is marketing first, not logical. Tension snapping shoot-outs are at first wise insertions, until a grievous climax shatters legitimate boundaries for the sake of trailer-centric explosions.
“Inspired” by a true story means liberties, and chucking Mexican drug dealers to their death in a chipper freeway stand-off turns Snitch’s final act into an embarrassment. Gone is the haze of darkness, or smoke of seedy interiors, changed to glossy reflections of an out of control big rig hauling millions in straight cash. Unknown goons meet their fate in glamorous ways, if only for the lens, Matthews suddenly a truck driver with little self-restraint.
Snitch’s final, forceful act is punctuation on a film with little hardened impact. It feels tacked on and loosely fitting, only then because of its bulky lead. Time spent character building, devising strategies, and choosing emotional highs create something with substance despite implored intent regarding judicial policies. Seeing Snitch degrade into shotgunning, roadside mayhem – despite an airy, atmospheric score selection – is disheartening. Preceding material carries enough gravity to offset the lunacy however.
Some of Snitch’s action is captured with limited range digital cameras. An early chase sequence through a suburban neighborhood hunkers low to the ground, rich in only compression artifacts. Intentionally unstable camerawork only burdens the slip shod visuals further.
Everything else? It’s handed to the Red Epic, which reaches for black levels it is unable to grasp. Minimally invasive on depth, the gray layers evident in low light photography sap energy while muddying dimensionality. The 2.35:1 frame is a hearty giveaway.
Tense sharpness adds precision fidelity in close, detailing pores (all of them) on Johnson’s face consistently. Few gaffes occur only in medium shots, appearing limited in resolution from afar. Snitch’s visual package is only under duress from limited light; shots with interior or daytime clarity carry substantial heft.
Digital intermediates catapult Snitch away from glitz or recognizable palette schemes. Instead, saturation is withheld for a subtle, natural display of color with slight restraint. Flesh tones hint at pale facades, yet never have the rush of flatness that would dim reality. Appealing, if for different reasons that hyper real color penetration.
Primed with a DTS-HD 7.1 effort, focus here is held within a spirited score, sweeping between channels to embellish different pitches in the electronic air. Stereos pop between each other to host peaks, firmly effective in drawing attention toward the eeriness of certain encounters.
Action is different, taking steps to prop itself up while breaking the pane of reality. A shoot-out within a junkyard is inflated to douse the surrounds with stray bullets, inefficient in believability. It makes dodging those rounds all the more unlikely, a sound design that is inconsistent within its home. A heavy machine gun dumps into the LFE for dramatic gravity, a better use of the materials.
For its closure, Snitch details panning vehicles, exploding vehicles, flipping vehicles, and toppling trucks. All use generosity of the soundfield to an effective end, splattering sound into surrounds or stereos, although the additive rears are seemingly ignored or offered little precision. Shotgun blasts echo handily within the cab, forcing the subwoofer into service. A fun finale to hear if not watch.
Ric Roman Waugh collaborates with his editor Johnathan Chibnall for a commentary through the action flick, followed by a better than average making of Privileged Information. Just shy of 50-minutes, this plots out the creation of the film and the central location for the idea that spawned this message piece. Four deleted scenes and trailers (including a terribly bizarre, off-putting ad for a human rights campaign) clip the extras right as they were getting good.