A Dwayne Johnson movie gave us a barely recognizable performance
Not only is the 2013 film Dwayne Johnston's star ride, it's also very different from modern Johnson's work.
Is Dwayne Johnson's modern movie choice Easton Corbin's 2013 country song? Because they function a bit like clockwork. Johnson has never been one to embrace indie cinema (he's the Tooth Fairy, after all), but starting in 2014 he's made a habit of shooting a PG-13 film or two a year (2017's R-rated Baywatch was the rule sole exception). Each of these films cost a lot of money to make, often had great family appeal, and generally didn't push Johnson beyond his comfort zone as a performer. "San Andreas", "Black Adam", "Red Notice", "Skyscraper", they are all completed in this mold.
Just when Johnson decided he wanted to be G.I. Joe: However, in revenge for the rest of his career, he starred in a small crime film called Snitch. At ten years old, The Snitch is not a misunderstood masterpiece, but it now registers as a fascinating entry in his filmography. Even though it's only a decade old, The Snitch already feels like it's from an alternate universe compared to the genre of films that Johnson would later headline.
What Is 'Snitch' About?
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh (who also co-wrote with Justin Haythe), The Snitch follows John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), the owner of a construction firm whose life is thrown into limbo when his son Jason Collins is arrested for drug possession. Staring at a minimum 10-year prison sentence, Collins was ordered by the government to inform others in order to minimize his sentence. To save his son (who was framed for a crime) from an affair, John volunteers with the DEA as an informant for a major drug dealer. The process ultimately involved Matthews allowing his company trucks to be used for drug smuggling, while the father got along with big members of the cartel.
From this plot summary alone, it's clear that the Snitch is vastly different in tone from Hobbs and Shaw. It's a reality-based characterization, with Johnson portraying an average guy who doesn't suddenly become an action hero when conflict arises. There are shootouts and car chases, but most of the suspense comes from the tension surrounding whether Matthews can juggle his duplicity in his suburban life. This more intimate range derives from the Waugh Hayes' screenplay is largely obsessed with the efforts a father will make when his child's future is in jeopardy.
To this end, the tone of the entire film is sombre and subdued, in stark contrast to the future Johnson car. No San Andreas-like "it's been a while since I brought you to second base" quips, no monkey-like rampage giving people the middle finger, or even dark comedy (like Ian McShane's desire to realize his prophesied death) otherwise there is no dull Hercules here. The Snitch is dealing with the world of drug smuggling, not cartoon supervillains, and the morally gray way the US government deals with the proliferation of drugs. The material required an aesthetic that was very different from the default vibe of today's standard Dwayne Johnson films.
'Snitch' Is a More Interesting Dwayne Johnson Star Vehicle
Perhaps most interestingly, the Snitch asked Dwayne Johnson to play a character, rather than merely parodying his star persona as in The Jungle Cruise or later Fast and Furious sequels. It's not a super detailed character, nor is it a drastic departure from his normal persona, but John Matthews at least isn't a complete copy of anything His character's name appears in Skyscraper. Most of all, he's a fallible underdog. Johnson's current star image thrives on him, looking like a man capable of everything from city-destroying monsters to earthquakes. In The Snitch, Johnson plays a man who makes poor decisions and gets easily overwhelmed. He's someone who can't help himself, not a thinly veiled superhero who's been waiting for his chance to fight the bad guys.
That's exactly the role you'd expect to be the star of a $25 million action-thriller that rolled out in late February, but it's not normal for Dwayne Johnson's star car. Unlike the default Johnson films that followed, The Snitch is a bit of an attempt to get a message across. On the face of it, this is a film about the war on drugs and how families of color are affected by drug dealers and the U.S. government's response to them. There's definitely a lot more to theme here than Baywatch. Admittedly, just discussing these topics doesn't automatically equate the Snitch with Sicario.
Waugh, filmmaker later known for directing Gerard Butler Action flicks like "Angel Has Fallen" (though he does attempt to return to more thoughtful fare with a national title in 2021), aren't the best or most experienced hands with this material. His superficial approach as a filmmaker prevents Snicket from being as perceptive or thoughtful as he should be. But the Snitch's foray into the territory it stole from the headlines is at least more ambitious in its goals than Johnson's other later films, which deliberately avoided talking about anything too controversial, lest would-be fans be scared off. Snitch's sociopolitical ambitions are even reflected in the way Participant Media, a company known for making socially conscious films like "Judas and the Black Messiah" or "American Factory," does. It's hard to imagine a later Johnson film like San Andreas being interested in being associated with a company like Participant Media, but then again, this is a very different time in Johnson's career.
2013 Was a Turning Point in Dwayne Johnson’s Filmography
2013 was a turning point for Dwayne Johnson's leading actor. The Snitch and Pain and Gain came out within two months of each other, each a darker film with Johnson playing real characters and even containing commentary on the state of America. In the same year, Johnson Helmed two blockbuster sequels, including Fast & Furious 6, which grossed over $788 million worldwide. Compare that massive sum to Snitch's $58 million worldwide gross, and where does Johnson's acting ambitions go in the future.
Regrettably, since The Snitch, Johnson's follow-up efforts as movie stars have mostly produced painless but memorable star vehicles, and while far from a perfect movie, it does show Johnson's willingness to take risks. Some admirable will. The movie wasn't designed to spawn a cinematic universe or sell tons of toys, but just worked as a standalone project that might shed some light on a general political issue. Ten years ago, Johnson's headlines might have seemed unsurprising, but now? The Snitch looks like a visitor from another planet. Perhaps Dwayne Johnson's modern slate would have been less like Easton Corbyn's "Clockwork" if he'd at least included more movies like The Snitch in his stellar ride of the past decade, Rather, it feels more like being on the road, er, on a map.