SNITCH (Ric Roman Waugh). 95 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (February 22). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNN
Snitch is an issue picture in thriller drag, designed to educate Americans about the awful effects of mandatory minimum sentences. Laws intended to induce small-time drug dealers to give up their suppliers for reduced jail time have left thousands of first-time offenders facing a decade in prison for minor violations - an obscene miscarriage of justice recently addressed in Eugene Jarecki's documentary The House I Live In.
Snitch isn't a documentary, though. "Inspired by true events," it's a tense, reasonably efficient thriller about construction-supply magnate John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), who decides to infiltrate his city's drug organization to get his son out from under a DEA set-up.
Enlisting an ex-con employee (Jon Bernthal), John gets an introduction to local kingpin Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams, The Wire's Omar) and starts working his way up the line, consulting with a manipulative U.S. attorney (Susan Sarandon) and a grizzled but ultimately sensible cop (Barry Pepper).
Director and co-writer Ric Roman Waugh doesn't let the action beats overwhelm the character stuff, giving Snitch a grimy 70s vibe that carries through to its cynical portrayal of authority figures and its modest dramatic ambitions.
The problem is that Johnson's such an outsized leading man - both literally and in terms of his strengths as a performer - that he's not really convincing as a Gene Hackman Everydad. He's perfectly convincing firing a shotgun through the window of a semi. He just can't pass for ordinary.