Snitch_blog.jpg
Steve Dietl/Summit Ent.
Johnson as a frightened everyman, in over his head.
The Dinner : Bacon cheeseburger, at McCoy's Firehouse Bar & Grill (173 S.

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Dwayne Johnson Leaves "The Rock" Behind, but Retains Some Beef

Snitch_blog.jpg
Steve Dietl/Summit Ent.
Johnson as a frightened everyman, in over his head.
The Dinner: Bacon cheeseburger, at McCoy's Firehouse Bar & Grill (173 S. Washington St.).

The Movie: Snitch, at Meridian (1501 Seventh Ave.).

The Screenplate: I mean this in a good way that Snitch could've been made in the 1930s, '40s, or '50s as a Warner Bros. crime melodrama starring John Garfield, Humphrey Bogart, or Alan Ladd. It's a solid little B-movie lacking special effects, a big budget, or a hero with superpowers. There's an actual issue involved. And though its star, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, came up in the steroidal arena of pro wrestling, and has played plenty of meathead action heroes, Snitch turns out to be a very different movie--and a better movie--than you expect. It's being marketed as an action flick, of course, much like Johnson's coming G.I. Joe sequel, but it's a much more modest affair. And Johnson plays a modest role: St. Louis small businessman, divorced, his first kid 18, with a small daughter in his happier second marriage. He's a blue-collar, bootstrapping success story, now perhaps too proud of his big pickup truck, titanium putter, and vintage Scotch. But he hasn't forgotten his roots, which makes McCoy's Firehouse Bar & Grill an appropriate stop before the movie...

With its facade just repaired from a car that careened into the place off Second Avenue, McCoy's borrows its identity from the nearby firehouse on Main. Do firemen or cops really come there after their shifts? The walls are adorned with old uniforms, badges, and insignias, though I suspect they're mainly there for Seahawks fans to inspect while downing pregame beers. It's a humble joint in the low-rise section of Pioneer Square, surrounded by old bars, homeless shelters, and other social-service agencies. It's also one of the closest saloons to Seattle Weekly's new home, so I felt obliged to visit. "The food is good," I was told by a colleague. And my former boss, Bottomfeeder extraordinaire Mike Seely, loves the place for its meaty excess. But more on that later.

Johnson's character, named Matthews, has a weak, idiot son who accepts FedEx delivery of ecstasy pills from a pal. Then comes the bust, because his pal snitched on him. Because of federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, Matthews is told, his kid is going away for 10 years. (Unless the boy can snitch on another dealer, which he refuses to do.) Matthews then pitches an unlikely deal to the stern, childless, politically ambitious federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon!). Let me do a drug deal for you in place of my son, he says, then he can get off on probation and go to college. Because this is a movie, the prosecutor agrees, meaning that upright family man Matthews has to penetrate the criminal underworld he knows nothing about.

The first indication Snitch isn't just another dumb action movie is the humiliating spectacle of Matthews getting beaten up by some petty street corner crack dealers in his initial foray into snitching. Wait--the Rock just got his ass whipped by a bunch of skinny punks? That would never happen to Sly or Arnold! And he never has his revenge. He never even touches a gun until the last 20 minutes of the movie; and he never has the satisfaction of punching anyone out. Readers, believe me when I say that the Rock, while no great actor, actually looks nervous and scared for most of the movie. He even sheds a few tears and tells his son "I love you." By the time he hooks up with a scary dealer (Michael K. Williams, aka Omar Little in The Wire), Matthews realizes he's in way over his head. The dealer, Malik, leads to an even more frightening Mexican drug cartel, whose leader (Benjamin Bratt) is a whole different magnitude of scary. The quieter the villain, the more dangerous he is.

McCoy's, on an average weeknight, isn't very quiet or scary. The TV screens are muted (no games are on), and '90s indie rock is being pumped in by Pandora or Spotify. The patrons don't seem like a '90s indie rock kind of crowd (more like a '70s soft rock crowd), but whatever. My burger comes correctly without butter or mayo, as ordered. If the lettuce and tomato are a little wilted, Mike Seely has already warned me--this is a meat place, not a veggie place. And the burger, with fries and a pint of Sam Adams, is good. (The total: about $13, plus tip.) Service is cheerful and prompt. McCoy's is not a place to act fancy, and no one acts fancy.

You could say the same of Johnson. His muscles and smile might seem to entitle him to some attitude, but he's entirely humble in Snitch. Matthews' son isn't really worth saving, but he tries to save him. His ticket to the underworld, an ex-con who works at his construction firm (Jon Bernthal), shouldn't inspire much confidence, but Matthews trusts him anyway. The ex-con is also a father, and even Bratt's drug lord turns out to have a son. Snitch is very much a movie about paternal sacrifice--even for kids who may not deserve it.

Although better than comparable recent flicks like Parker or Contraband, Snitch shouldn't be overpraised. It has the virtue of restraint--of not acting fancy, like McCoy's. There's much less action than you expect (the script was inspired by a Frontline report on mandatory minimums and confidential informants), and the car crashes and gunshots feel plausibly weighted by gravity. (No one drives off an overpass and onto a train.) An IMDb search on the co-writer and director, Ric Roman Waugh, reveals that he's an ex-stuntman who began his career in the '80s, with dozens of credits toiling away for the likes of Schwarzenegger and Nicolas Cage. He's a Hollywood journeyman, and Snitch likewise favors craft over depth. Johnson will never be a deep actor, but he's comfortable within his limitations.

The same can be said of the movie. And the dinner.

 
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