By Robert Moyes
You know you’re not watching a regular Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movie when, 40 minutes in, the first fight results in Johnson’s character being left stomped and bleeding after a run-in with street punks a foot shorter than he is. It’s all part of the verismo of Snitch, a based-on-a-true-story crime drama about a suburban dad who goes undercover for the DEA.
Johnson plays John Matthews, the hard-working owner of a trucking company whose teenage son Jason has just been busted by federal cops as a drug dealer. Tricked by a friend who was trying to get a sweetheart deal from these same cops, Jason isn’t really a dealer at all, but he is in real trouble, due to U.S. “mandatory minimum” drug laws that will toss him in the slammer for 10 years. The frantic father makes a deal with the federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon), offering to entrap a drug thug on his son’s behalf.
John reaches out to an ex-con on his payroll and asks for an “introduction” to a big-time dealer named Malik. Before long, he’s doing a trial run in one of his long-haul rigs, bringing up several kilos of cocaine from near the Mexican border. Things get complicated when a big player from the Mexican drug cartels takes an interest in John and what his trucks can do. As his deal with the DEA suddenly slips sideways and the cartel boss becomes a threat to his wife and daughter, John takes desperate, life-and-death measures to do right by his family.
Snitch is an ambitious combination of shoot-’em-up thriller, family drama and an “issue” movie. It’s directed by Ric Roman Waugh, a stuntman-turned-director who has helmed a couple of second-tier actioners. In some ways this feels like a TV movie, thanks to the obvious setup, the off-the-shelf dialogue, and an all-too-easy-to-hate prosecutor who heartlessly follows the rules and doesn’t care about justice.
Even if Waugh isn’t particularly deft at moving the action along and creating tension, he does have a knack for filling out the subplots with interesting characters. John’s ex-con employee (Jon Bernthal) generates pathos as a hard-edged guy whose dream of turning his life around — and providing for his wife and little boy — is suddenly falling to pieces.
The dealer Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams, well-known to fans of The Wire for playing the memorably lethal Omar) is as scary as they come. And B.C.’s own Barry Pepper, complete with a billy goat’s beard and feral manner, makes a vivid impression as a DEA field agent with a conscience.
Which brings us to the ever-likable Johnson, who seems a bit out of his depth trying to play a real character rather than the amiable, larger-than-life cartoons he has built his career on. But he definitely deserves credit for making the stretch. And the workmanlike Snitch, despite its flaws, is worth a look, especially when it really comes alive towards the end as director Waugh returns to his stuntman roots to stage some dramatic high-speed highway stunts without benefit of any CGI. And anyone who exposes the cruel stupidity of the war on drugs has earned a pat on the back. M
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh
Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
PG • 112 minutes
Continues at SilverCity, and Westshore
Okanagan Spring Porter is a classic “sipping beer,” rich and full bodied. Molasses is the dominant flavour note, along with hints of dried fruits, prunes, and some spice. Off-dry but not as sweet as many so-called winter warmers, this is an intensely flavoured beer that is definitely not for the Labatt’s crowd. A great value at $12.25 for six.
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL -() Sam Raimi directs an extravgant rendering of L. Frank Baum’s Oz novel about a small-time magician (James Franco) who ends up in a fantastical land where he can achieve true greatness if he becomes a hero by battling a terrible witch. With Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz. Starts Fri.
DEAD MAN DOWN -() From the director of the original Swedish Dragon Tattoo thriller comes this dark crime tale about a victimized woman who coerces a violent gangster into getting revenge for her. With Noomi Rapace and Colin Farrell. Starts Fri.
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER-(Capitol/SilverCity/Westshore) This looks to be a fun — if rather over-the-top — variation on the Jack and the Beanstalk tale. Directed by Bryan Singer (Usual Suspects, X-Men) and starring Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies). Starts Fri.
THE LAST EXORCISM PART II -(Capitol/SilverCity) The original Last Exorcism was a religio-horror fright flick that cleverly explored the mindset behind religious fundamentalism; the sequel looks like it could be an equally effective scare fest. Starts Fri.
THE MOVIE OUT HERE -(Odeon) This dubious looking comedy features a Toronto lawyer who returns to his hometown of Fernie to help out a friend with a failing business. Sasquatch sightings and bikini pillow fights evidently figure prominently. Starts Fri.
21 AND OVER -(SilverCity/Westshore) The night before his big med-school exam, an innocent young man celebrates his 21st birthday — and things get way out of hand. This crass raunchfest is by the guys who brought you The Hangover. Starts Fri.
★★★★ AMOUR -(Odeon) This haunting film by talented Austrian director Michael Haneke won some Oscar gold for a well-acted drama about a French couple in their 80s. After the wife has a stroke and begins a sharp decline, the husband takes on the immense burden of caring for her at home. This is an emotionally powerful and devastating film.
★★★½ ARGO -(Capitol) Despite some liberties taken with the facts, this account of a CIA agent who managed to smuggle six Americans to safety from Iran during the notorious 1979-’80 hostage crisis is surprisingly even-handed, very suspenseful and truly entertaining. Directed by and starring Ben “He got some Oscars” Affleck.
★★ DARK SKIES -(Capitol/SilverCity) Part Poltergeist and part X-Files, this competently made but empty-headed paranormal shocker features an unsuspecting suburban family gradually realizing a terrifying and deadly force is out to get them.
★★★ DJANGO UNCHAINED -(Odeon/SilverCity/Caprice) Quentin Tarantino’s latest is a gory tale about a freed slave-turned-bounty-hunter (Jamie Foxx) tracking down the brutal plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) who has bought his wife. This mash-up of spaghetti western and blaxploitation flick is clever, but many people will find the idea of Tarantino riffing on a holocaust for his own movie-making amusement rather offensive.
ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH -(Capitol/SilverCity/Westshore) This animated adventure tale features a brave astronaut in peril because of inter-galactic bad guys. With the vocal talents of Brendan Fraser, Jessica Sarah Parker, and Jessica Alba.
★ A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD -(Westshore/SilverCity)In this tedious turd of a would-be thriller, Bruce Willis once again reprises his role as supercop John McClane, this time mixing it up with Russian mobsters who have nasty nuclear ambitions.
★½ HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS -(Caprice) Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton star as witch-whacking bounty hunters, in a horror-thriller that is witless, charmless, and shockingly dull-witted. The Brothers Grimm are owed an apology.
★★★ THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY -(Caprice) This long-expected Lord of the Rings prequel has a young Bilbo Baggins head off with a posse of dwarves to reclaim some treasure stolen by a mean old dragon named Smaug. Hobbit fans will love it, people with less of a passion for those with hairy feet should merely be entertained. With Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, and Andy Serkis as the perfidious Gollum.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA -(Caprice) A hotel where vampires and sundry other monsters hide out from humans gets a big scare when a backpacking dude shows up looking for a room. This animated comedy features the voices of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and Andy Samberg.
★½ IDENTITY THIEF -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore) The considerable talents of Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) are wasted in this witless and often mean-spirited would-be comedy about a mild-mannered businessman who makes the grave mistake of tracking down the seemingly gentle woman who has stolen his identity.
★★★½ LIFE OF PI -(SilverCity/Uni 4/Odeon) Oscar winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) added a new golden statuette to his collection with this visually gorgeous adaptation of Yann Martel’s magical and spiritual novel about a young man’s epic adventures while lost at sea — most of which are shared with a terrifying Bengal tiger.
★★★★ LINCOLN -(Uni 4) Stephen Spielberg directs award-winning playwright Tony (Angels in America) Kushner’s account of Abraham Lincoln’s darkest days as he fights the Civil War and also fights political battles in his cabinet over plans to free America’s black slaves. The superb cast includes Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field.
★★★½ LES MISERABLES -(Capitol) Victor Hugo’s sweeping tale of love, poverty and an obsessed policeman stalking a reformed criminal in 19th century France inspired the best of the mega-musicals, and now makes a stylish migration to the silver screen. This elegant, emotionally powerful film manages to be both epic and intimate. Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway
★★★ QUARTET -(Odeon/Uni 4) Dustin Hoffman turns in his directorial debut with this droll and heartfelt comedy about a retirement home for classical musicians where the annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday is disrupted by the arrival of a diva’s diva (Maggie Smith). The great cast includes Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, and Pauline Collins.
★★★ RISE OF THE GUARDIANS -(Caprice) Jack Frost, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and other mythical characters come together to save childhood innocence after a very evil spirit named Pitch starts making trouble. This animated lark is voiced by Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin.
SAFE HAVEN -(Odeon/Westshore/SilverCity) Just in time for Valentine’s comes this romance/drama/mystery about a young woman with a secret past who is forced to confront some dark personal baggage after falling for a sexy widower.
★★★½ SIDE EFFECTS -(Capitol/Caprice) What is allegedly Steven Soderbergh’s last film is an edgy psychological thriller about a woman whose life unravels when she’s prescribed a fancy new anti-depressant. Starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law, and Channing Tatum. Slickly directed, with Hitchockian style and a twisty plot.
★★★ SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK -(Odeon/Uni 4/Caprice) A bi-polar man (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover) is trying to put his life — and his marriage — back together when he meets a fascinating woman (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games) with problems of her own. This quirky (and over-rated) romantic comedy is directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter)
★★½ SNITCH -(SilverCity/Westshore) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as a dad who goes undercover for the DEA in order to help out his son, who went to prison after being made the fall guy for a drug deal. With Susan Sarandon and Barry Pepper. A drama as much as a thriller, this is an interesting movie choice for Johnson.
★★★ WARM BODIES -(Caprice) Zombie love is the subject of this charming, clever, and highly unusual romcom, as a zombie with a heart saves a human girl . . . and sets strange events in motion. Ahhhh.
★★★ WRECK–IT RALPH -(Caprice) John C. Reilly provides the voice for a video-game villain who tires of being a bad guy and sets out on a quest that throws an entire video arcade into chaos. This occasionally-inspired animation lark includes the voices of Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch.
★★★★ EVEREST -(6 pm)
★★★ THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY -(7 pm)
THE LAST REEF -(11 am, 2 pm, 4 pm)
MYSTERIES OF EGYPT -(10 am, Mar. 7 only)
★★★½ MYSTERIES OF THE GREAT LAKES -(10 am [except Mar. 7], noon, 3 pm, 5 pm)
TO THE ARCTIC -(1 pm)
MOVIE MONDAY – Is screening The Sessions, a frank and funny account of a man in an iron lung who wants to lose his viriginity and decides to have several sessions with a sex surrogate. At heart, this is a surprisingly tender look at sexuality, and a moving love story. Starring John Hawkes, William H. Macy, and Helen Hunt. Based on a true story. 6:30 pm MONDAY in the 1900-block Fort. By donation. 595-FLIC. moviemonday.ca.
AWARENESS FILM NIGHT -presents Outstanding In Her Field, a documentary by and about women farmers on sourthern Vancouver Island. This is part of the annual Farming and Gardening Gala. WEDNESDAY, March 6, 7:30 pm at Edward Milne Community School, 6218 Sooke Road.
Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365. cinecenta.com.
REBELLE (WAR WITCH) -Wed.-Thurs., Mar. 6-7: 7:10, 9:10) Oscar nominated for best foreign language film, this much-praised Quebec drama tells the dramatic and horrifying story of a 14-year-old girl who becomes a child soldier in the South Sudan.
MINECRAFT: THE STORY OF MOJANG -(Fri., Mar. 8: 7:15 only) Video gamers will enjoy this doc about game designer Markus Persson and the creation of Minecraft.
★★★ SCHOOL OF ROCK -(Sat.-Sun., Mar. 9-10: 1:00 matinee) Jack Black plays a rogue teacher with rock ‘n’ roll on his mind, in a sitcom-style but still zestily lowbrow comedy by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused). Sharp and funny!
★★★ STORIES WE TELL -(Sat., Mar. 9: 3:00, 7:00, 9:10) Although in some ways this seems like an intellectuallized home movie, Sarah Polley’s moving and insightful account of belatedly discovering that her dad was not her biological father is never less than engaging.
★★★★ CLOUDBURST -(Sun, Mar. 10: 3:00, 7:00 & Mon., Mar. 11: 7:00 only) This bittersweet and wildly — make that profanely — funny road picture involving two octogenarian lesbians on the run to Canada in order to get married is a raunchy and very touching delight. This one has wowed festival audiences all across the country. Starring Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker.
TATSUMI -(Sun.-Mon., Mar. 10-11: 9:00 only) This is a very adult look at Japanese comic book artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who told dark, dangerous and sophisticated tales of post-war Japan.
★★★★ JULES AND JIM -(Tues., Mar. 12: 7:00, 9:00) The don’t get much more classic than Francois Truffaut’s 1962 romantic comedy-drama charting a bohemian lover’s triangle over 25 tumultous years.
THE HOUSE I LIVE in -(Wed., Mar. 13: 7:00 only & Thurs., Mar. 14: 7:00, 9:10) Here’s a very wideranging look at the failure — and destructive consequences — of the war on drugs. The Wednesday screening includes a panel discussion on Canadian drug policy.