America's decades' long “war on drugs” is the kind of debacle that looks insane from the outside and makes even less sense when you’re embroiled in it.
Mandatory sentencing for drug-related crimes can easily land innocent dupes in jail for years. That’s the premise of thinking-man’s thriller Snitch .
Based in part on a 1999 PBS documentary, it tells the seemingly far-fetched but mostly true tale of a dumb kid (Rafi Gavron) who agrees to receive a shipment of ecstasy pills for a friend.
He gets busted and sentenced to 10 years’ hard time unless he can ‘snitch’ on a few high-level dealers.
His father, a trucking company magnate (Dwayne Johnson), makes a deal with a cutthroat DA (Susan Sarandon) to bring in enough streetcreeps to set his kid free. Luckily for him, half the guys driving his trucks are excons, and they put him on the trail of the American head of a nefarious Mexican drug cartel, El Topo (Benjamin Bratt)…
For most modern action films, this setup would take 10 minutes; Michael Bay could get it done in a pre-credits sequence.
Stuntman-turned-director Ric Roman Waugh, however, takes a different approach, choosing to ape the Bronson/Hackman ’70’s model of an hour-long build followed by a violent, chaotic third act.
It’s a risky move in these ADD-addled times - as Paul Schrader recently said, films he used to think were well-paced he now finds slow - but the payoff is worth it.
While it’s easy enough to jab a thumb into the gaping plot holes, point out the sometimes squirmy political platitudes, or roll tired eyeballs at Johnson’s fitful stabs at quiet rage in the early scenes, the simple pleasures of crunching, ear-battering mayhem and revenge-driven brawn smashing bad guys to pieces cannot be denied… especially when they’ve been deferred.
Everyone needs a dose of heavy metal now and then, and if it comes with a dollop or two of social conscience, all the better.