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Snitch

Year: 2013
Production Co: Exclusive Media Group
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Writer: Justin Haythe/Ric Roman Waugh
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Benjamin Bratt, David Harbour

As I write these words, Dwayne Johnson has morphed into a very different kind of movie star. Over just the last year in fact, he's become a one man marketing machine, picking projects that seem to have the express purpose of proving he can take any tired, flagging old name or idea from pop culture and make a hit movie out of it. Just this year he's starred in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Rampage, with Skyscraper (a seeming homage to Die Hard and The Towering Inferno) out now.

He's ceased to be any kind of character or story element anymore, he's just an instantly recongisable figure who – no matter who he's playing – flashes that Rock-level smile, bald head and spectacular muscles and who therefore makes movies feel as comfortable as an old shoe.

But back when he made Snitch, he was much more of an actor than a piece of self-mythologising film property. Aside from any particular acting talent, he played a role that had something to say rather than just 'let The Rock's face on your poster fill your studio coffers today!'

Here he plays John, an everyday schmoe (albeit with steely determination as big as his blazing, tattooed pecs) who runs a trucking company, has a wife he loves, a son he loves with his ex wife and seemingly everything going for him.

But when his son decides to dabble a little bit in party drugs, agreeing to take delivery of a box of e's from his friend, things turn. When they show up there's a homing beacon in the box, feds descend on the house and the boy is chased across the neighbourhood and taken into custody, banged up as part of the sweeping new zero tolerance drug laws.

John petitions the local DA (Susan Sarandon) to give his son a break but she's riding the electoral wave all the way to Congress on her tough-on-drug-crime stance and won't budge. In an unlikely turn of events, however (although apparently it's influenced by a true story) she agrees to show him some leniency if John helps the DEA land a bigger fish in the trade.

He recruits the former con who works for him, Daniel (Jon Bernthal), to introduce him to some contacts so he can pose as a runner, using his rigs to move huge quantities of smack. Daniel is very reluctant to return to his former life, having finally settled down with a wife and son, but he can't pass up the money for a mere introduction.

But when John gets the job, his shady new employers insist in Daniel joining the crew, upping the stakes for everyone. John has to work undercover with DEA agent Cooper (Barry Pepper) to try to identify and locate the big boss of the cartel before he loses cover... or worse.

The story is interesting enough, but the recognisable names belie a much bigger budget and a better-made movie than the final product turned out to be. It's more about tension than action, so there's a minimum of Johnson as modern superhero, which is good. He has a very decent measure of acting talent so when he has only that to rely on (like he did in older movies like Walking Tall), it's less self-referential about it being the Rock Show.

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