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'Snitch' is unexpectedly drama-driven
By Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies

A fact-based thriller, about a father going undercover with the DEA to help free his son, that stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and is directed and co-written by a former stuntman seems like the last place one would expect to find a relatively slow-paced and strangely compelling family drama, but Ric Roman Waugh has done just that with his "Snitch." Ostensibly "inspired by true events," the film stars Johnson as John Matthews, a Missouri truck company owner stunned to learn that his somewhat estranged teenage son (Rafi Gavron) has been thrown in jail on federal drug charges. Turns out, young Jason has been pinned by a friend, and mandatory minimum sentencing laws (the apparent real villain of the film) mean he could spend at least 10 years in prison, unless he helps the feds track down other drug dealers. Jason might not know any other drug dealers, but John decides that he'll do the unthinkable: offer his trucks to local pushers (and, eventually, the Mexican cartel) to transport their goods, only to serve him up to the cops.

For a film that seems ready-made to deliver big fighting scenes and even bigger action sequences, Waugh (and co-writer Justin Haythe) frequently go surprisingly low-key, with Johnson tasked with playing a beleaguered family man who never thinks of using muscle to get the job done (despite the fact that, well, he's built like The Rock). "Snitch" never gets quite pumping as an action film, but it's more than serviceable as a thriller and a drama punctuated with believable tension and real-world stakes.

The film struggles with delivering necessary pieces of exposition, thanks to a number of hilariously hammy lines that serve to tell us about our characters and their lives, instead of organically showing us that same information. Any questions we might have about John, Jason, their relationship and their at-odds lifestyles are answered almost immediately and with the minimum of cinematic grace. Waugh and Haythe don't let their film unfold in a natural way for its first third or so, but things eventually even out in an entertaining and engaging fashion.

"Snitch" also benefits tremendously from its well-cast lineup of supporting characters, including Susan Sarandon as a morally flexible U.S. attorney, Michael K. Williams as a small-time drug dealer, Benjamin Bratt as the local Mexican cartel kingpin, Barry Pepper as the DEA agent jack-of-all-trades and an excellent Jon Bernthal as Johnson's somewhat unwitting partner. Packaged together, "Snitch" is far better and more compelling that it needs to be, an unexpectedly drama-driven would-be action outing.

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Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice magazine and an associate editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in Los Angeles.

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