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Law Review: Snitch

Submitted by on February 26 – 2013No Comment

Dwayne-Johnson-in-Snitch-2013-Movie-PosterDo you smell what The Rock is trafficking?

The WWE superstar has returned to theaters with a 112-minute jeremiad against the federal mandatory minimum laws. Fans of Dwayne Johnson’s oeuvre up to this point may be surprised by the relatively low-key action in this film. Aside from some gunplay, a trucking accident, and the calamitous end of several mid-size sedans, this film doesn’t aim to wow the audience with spectacular violence. Instead, “Snitch” has a message about four things: the federal mandatory minimum laws, the federal mandatory minimum laws, Dwayne Johnson’s credibility as a thespian, and the federal mandatory minimum laws, which are repeated in the film far more frequently and tediously than they are in this paragraph. It is not a subtle film.

In “Snitch,” Mr. Johnson plays businessman John Matthews, whose son Jason faces the prospect of decades behind bars after he commits a momentary indiscretion with a bag of Ecstasy pills. Before you can say “entrapment,” “suborning perjury,” or “prosecutorial misconduct,” Jason finds himself in an orange jumpsuit, talking to a defense attorney who knows a lot more about sentencing statistics than he does about suppressing unconstitutional evidence. The judges are powerless to stop the wheel of blind justice. Only a federal prosecutor can spring Jason from prison. Unfortunately, a heartless, opportunistic politician has taken over the local US Attorney’s office in this film. Susan Sarandon plays the character with icy relish.

When Jason nobly turns down his hapless lawyer’s suggestion that they entrap one of his high school classmates in hopes of transferring his sentence onto another innocent party, fans of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible might smile nostalgically. That leaves the brooding, hulking John Matthews with few options. Desperate to save his son, John involves himself in an international drug conspiracy in hopes of gathering incriminating information to appease the feds. John is able to engage in this harebrained scheme because Susan Sarandon’s U.S. Attorney is gleefully willing to put the citizens she’s supposed to protect in mortal danger in the dubious hope of securing a conviction.

The various defenses available to accused drug traffickers in the real world and the safety precautions required for cooperating witnesses and their families rob this film of much of its policy credibility. This is too bad, because sentencing laws and witness cooperation are interesting topics worth a thoughtful treatment. “Snitch” forgoes its natural potential as a solid action flick in the hopes that audiences will take it seriously as a drama. Ultimately, the film is too clever by half.

“Snitch” also stars Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, and Michael K. Williams. It is rated “R” for drug content and sequences of violence. It is one hour and fifty-two minutes long. It will probably appeal to people who agree so strongly with its anti-sentencing message that they are willing to overlook its lack of inspiration. It will not appeal to viewers looking for a serious examination of the federal criminal justice system, or at least an honest attempt to show highway mayhem with some artistic panache.

–Austin Murnane

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