I’m not without sympathy for the makers of Snitch: you try delivering a marketable mainstream film about the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. It’s a tall order, and so writer-director Ric Roman Waugh and his screenwriter Justin Haythe proceed to basically ignore the assignment, shunting aside the would-be problem picture in favor of a procedural featuring The Rock as a hard-working trucker who attempts to infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel in order to save his son. “Based on a true story,” my ass.
The shift would have been fine if the procedural were of any interest or note, but it absolutely is not. Drab, unattractive, and unimaginatively directed, the bulk of Snitch is a lumbering drag, a sanitized PG-13 rendition of a season of The Wire that feels rushed even as it refuses to end. The main problem is that the mechanics at play here, involving a pretty basic undercover mission to deliver some cargo for the cartel and set up a plum arrest, are fundamentally unremarkable, and the film offers nothing else – narrative, formal, visual, or otherwise – to hold our attention. The closest it comes is an offbeat performance by Barry Pepper as a monstrously goateed federal agent; between this and Broken City, Pepper is having a heck of a year livening up otherwise crummy movies.
The most intriguing thing in Snitch happens at the beginning, when the protagonist’s son, played by the gifted Rafi Gavron, refuses to engineer a set-up of someone else to save himself from the 10-year mandatory minimum he will otherwise face. His parents don’t pause for an instant to take up the ethics involved: yes you will goddamn do it is their amoral, chillingly credible response. Do you have any idea what 10 years in prison is like?
Then, of course, dad takes things into his own hands and commits to getting the feds their arrest. But the movie immediately absolves him of any thorny moral considerations: he’s not setting up anybody. He’s getting ruthless gangbangers off the streets. A film about a father playing the feds’ brutal game to save his son from getting hosed by it might have been something. Alas, Snitch uses the quandaries of the drug war merely as a jumping-off point for a safe, undistinguished genre exercise that takes too long to accomplish very little.
— Eugene Novikov