SNITCH – DVD review

It’s hard to argue against the success Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has achieved in just about everything he has done.  Johnson, as a student, won a national championship as a defensive tackle with the University of Miami Hurricanes before following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and entering the travelling circus that is professional wrestling, namely the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment).

Johnson quickly became one of the top stars in a business that places immense value in tenure and “paying your dues.”  From there, he was able to do what even the biggest of the biggest pro-wrestling stars weren’t able to do and make the transition from beefed up grappler, to bona fide Hollywood movie star.  In the late 80s and early 90s, the red and yellow clad Hulk Hogan took a few cracks at the movies but didn’t see the kind of success necessary to leave the boots and trunks behind.

Johnson had the unique charisma that hasn’t been seen before or since that allowed him to make the transition so successfully.  His undeniable enthusiasm partnered with the mile wide smile that made him a villain to wrestling fans allowed him to connect with audiences on the big screen and convince them that he’s more than a phony pro-wrestler.  In fact, Johnson is so successful as an actor that WWE has lost millions to a movie division in an attempt at preventing one of their top draws abandoning the ring for Hollywood again.

On the screen, Johnson has really found his niche in the last year or so.  After a stint with some brain dead action films that required very little acting from the then inexperienced Johnson (“The Scorpion King,” “The Rundown”), and a run of equally brain dead yet successful Disney kids movies (“The Gameplan,” “Tooth Fairy”), he’s found himself a nice middle ground of a not so brain dead mix of franchise action blockbusters and original action/suspense movies.

He’s clearly doing something right, as Johnson has had a movie in the box office top 10 for 15 consecutive weeks and counting.
That brings us to one of those top 10 hits, “Snitch.”  The film, directed by very experience stuntman Ric Roman Waugh (“Total Recall [1990]”), tells the story of John Matthews (Johnson) whose teenaged son finds himself busted in a drug deal he didn’t want any part of in the first place.  You see, what happened is the kid (Rafi Gavron, “Inkheart”) was set up by his friend who, in a plea deal, agreed to snitch Gavron’s character Jason Collins out, despite the fact that he declined the exchange in the first place.  Collins has an opportunity to make a plea deal himself by snitching someone out, but unfortunately, the only drug dealer he knows was the friend who snitched him out in the first place.  This leads Matthews to go on a “Taken” like vigilante tear and work on the inside to create a drug bust to get his son out of the clink.

Despite the backgrounds of Waugh and Johnson, this movie, to its credit, resists the urge to go over the top with fight scenes and big stunts.  Rather the movie focuses on the plot which is centered on the injustice of Collins’ arrest and the plight of a father trying to protect his family, his business, and his life.  Johnson has truly evolved as an actor, and is able to pull off the role of a divorced father figure who desperately wants to earn back the respect of his son after leaving him.  These emotions are far more complex than anything he would have had to portray in pro wrestling or his earlier films, so this role, while it won’t go down as a career milestone, is truly a testament to the work Johnson has put into his acting since making the leap to Hollywood full-time a decade ago.

The film also shows memorable turns from Barry Pepper (“Saving Private Ryan”) as an undercover DEA agent and Jon Bernthal (“The Ghost Writer”) as a former drug runner trying to clean up his life who Matthews recruits to get him to the inside.  Susan Sarandon also lends some star power in a supporting role as a district attorney who Matthews needs to get on his side to get his son out.

The DVD presentation of Snitch is of very good quality.  The picture transitions well from dark interior scenes to bright exterior on-location scenes full of lots of action and movement.  The film is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio and makes good use of the widescreen format.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track on the DVD release was excellent and even sounded great on the 11 inch computer I used to watch the DVD.  It was clear that they took advantage of all of the sound channels to create a sense of depth in the audio, especially during action scenes with a lot of gun fire.  The audio track served well to enhance the movie viewing experience and I would expect the Blu-ray release audio to be equally impressive.

Special Features:
The DVD of “Snitch” is relatively light on special features.  You’ll get an audio commentary with Waugh and Editor Jonathan Chibnall as well as a making-of documentary and some deleted scenes.  It would have been nice to hear Johnson on the commentary as he always comes off as a very astute performer but as can see by his resume, he’s a very busy guy.  The DVD also comes with iTunes and Vudu digital copies of the movie for easy viewing on the go if you so wish.

Final Thoughts:
This is exactly the kind of movie I’d like to see out of Johnson at this point in his career.  He’s mature enough as a person and a performer where he can pull off the dad in turmoil role with ease but no so old where he looks ridiculous beating guys up.  The current landscape in Hollywood sees very few actors who have the versatility Johnson does to convincingly pull off action and drama outside of a franchise setting.  Sure, Andrew Garfield can go from “The Social Network” to “Spider-Man,” but there’s only one Rock, and he’s a rare breed nowadays where his name above the title is enough to draw an audience without the aid of a built in comic book or pre-existing movie franchise.  This guy’s got “it” and he may end up going down as Hollywood’s true last action hero.