Doug's Take: Dwayne Johnson delivers strong performance in 'Snitch'

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21 2013 5:40 p.m. MST

Rafi Gavron, center, in a scene from "Snitch."

Summit Entertainment

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Dwayne Johnson has it. I mean, he has the “it” that is rare and indefinable. It doesn’t matter if he’s sporting a tutu in a kid’s movie or fighting to defend his family, as he does in “Snitch.” He simply lights up the screen.

But, this film doesn’t open with Johnson; it opens with Rafi Gavron, who stars as his estranged son, Jason, who has just been suckered by his best friend into signing for a drug delivery. Everything goes terribly wrong when his friend is busted and rats Jason out in order to cut a deal with the Feds.

Jason isn’t a total innocent here, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to be charged as a drug dealer. But that’s what now faces him unless he, too, snitches on somebody and cuts a deal. Problem is, he doesn’t know anybody to rat out and wouldn’t if he did.

Johnson, starring as John Matthews, is the successful owner of a construction company who receives the news of his son’s plight from his ex-wife and immediately tries to help his son in every way he can think of. Powerful friends arrange for Matthews to meet with the federal prosecutor, played by Susan Sarandon. Big problem here; she is tough and politically ambitious. There’s no way she’ll cut a deal without the kid naming names. Realizing his son is in no position to save himself, dad decides he’ll deliver the drug dealers on his own.

Although this offer is initially refused by the prosecutor, she realizes that Matthew is not going to let this go and arranges for him to take his efforts into an undercover operation with backup.

This is one of those films announced as being “inspired” by a true story. That is a step removed from “based” on a true story, which is rarely very accurate. Still, while careening on the edge of going over-the-top, this tale is compelling and the cast really delivers.

Sarandon, referred to in the prosecutor’s office as the “Dragon Lady,” is perfect, — not evil, just frighteningly ambitious. John Bernthal plays one of Matthews' employees. He’s an ex-con and his boss drags him into this mess despite his best efforts to straighten out his life. It’s a touching side story that has real heart.

But, there’s no doubt that the movie pivots on Johnson, and he delivers. Tough yet vulnerable, basic integrity yet flawed, loyal but desperate … he weaves it all into his character.

“Snitch” carries a clear agenda with a final message on the screen announcing that first-time offenders under the mandatory drug laws serve more time than rapists and those convicted of manslaughter.

It’s a film worth seeing. Three stars and it's rated PG-13.

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