SNITCH (2013, Ric Roman Waugh): 7/10
The three most important things in storytelling: details, details, details. One of my takeaways from the came-out-of-nowhere greatness of FELON, director Ric Roman Waugh’s 2008 prison drama, was how good the details were. The plot wasn’t exceptional and the filmmaking a bit more workmanlike than artistic, but it was so specific and 100% dedicated to itself that it won me over, big time. Finally, Waugh has returned to the director’s chair and the results are almost as strong.
On the outside it looks like another action-packed B-movie star vehicle for Dwayne Johnson, but SNITCH is — while certainly a star vehicle — concerned with taking its subject matter very seriously. Part expose on unfairly harsh laws for drug convictions, part family film, and part tense crime drama, Waugh’s film wastes very little time getting the audience invested in its characters and carrying out the story with lean and well-paced propulsion. Whenever it stops down for some slightly corny domestic drama (both Johnson and Jon Bernthal have crying wives begging them not to do anything dangerous), writers Waugh and Justin Haythe (who adapted REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, speaking of domestic drama) puts as much emphasis on that dialogue as they do on the drug deals that make up the meat of the film.
Visually, Waugh lets his camera react to his characters’ motions, using a lot of handheld in the way a show like Homicide did, or a film like Joe Carnahan’s NARC. The effect is one of authenticity, not manipulation. In the third act, as the plot does veer into slightly hard-to-believe territory, the visuals also give themselves over to blow-em-up car chases and fast cuts, but for the most part this film is much smarter than it needed to be and even makes a social point (which is driven in once too many times with an end-credit statistic). My biggest problem with the film is Johnson’s performance — he’s not terrible, but there’s something a little too earnest and doltish about him. But if Waugh needs a big star like that to get movies this good off the ground, by all means: use The Rock.