Dwayne Johnson plays John Matthews, father and business owner, who goes undercover for the D.E.A. to help make an arrest that will get his son out of prison.
The movie is much less an action flick than a drama filled with great tension centered around the characters, and decent acting… for the most part. I was expecting Dwayne Johnson to be his typical presence on the silver screen: basically, a talking muscle. But his character, John Matthews, however tough and determined, is also very vulnerable. He fights his way out of practically nothing, and instead uses his wits. Plus, there’s actual dialogue to be delivered. Needless to say, The Rock fell short of fleshing out this role… but not so terribly it made me as conscious of his acting efforts as Susan Surrandon‘s.
That was something of a surprise. I’ve never particular y liked her acting, but she was pretty awful in this one. Fortunately, Barry Pepper as Agent Cooper, Rafi Gavron as Matthew’s son, and pretty much all the drug dealer characters picked up the slack. The imminent dangers of John Matthews working undercover for the D.E.A. was very tense, and that tension was sold by Joe Bernthal as Daniel James.
What is unfortunate is the movie just can’t help but take political jabs at conservatives. The moral of the story, as shared blatantly before the end credits roll, but with more subtlety in the duration of the movie, is that the laws are much too harsh on first-time drug offenders. The film claims to be based on actual events, and tells the story of a young man who was arrested for possession of narcotics with intention to distribute. He had been set up by a friend who snitched on him to spare himself time in prison. But the youth’s only real mistake was opening a package. That’s it. He opened a package delivered via FED EX, knowing it contained drugs. He didn’t ask for it, he only opened it, and now he’s looking at a ten year prison sentence. What’s funny though, is that Daniel James, ex-con and employee at Matthews’ trucking company, served five years for dealing drugs. This was never explained in the movie.
Also, Barry Pepper’s character, Agent Cooper seemingly dislikes the political angles of the law that Surrandon’s character exploits. He calls her “The Dragon Lady” because she is willing to let a boy barely out of high school serve ten years, arrested under the circumstances listed above, because she only wants to catch the “big fish” as a means of garnering votes. The obvious question is, if Agent Cooper so dislikes the harshness of the laws, and the Republican Congresswoman he works for, why does he not seek work elsewhere? …Also not addressed. I understand that “based on actual events” is terminology very loosely incorporated by Hollywood. And, the statistics listed concerning the drug enforcement laws may be correct. There probably are some real issues to be dealt with here.
So why use sell the action flick as a vehicle for addressing them? And, once again, why cast Dwayne Johnson? Why not delve into the bureaucracy behind it all?
I smell a rat. Something’s up here. Hollywood will always pander to demographics, every bit as much as the congresswoman in the movie will make drug busts a political issue, so I expect there to be some unanswered questions, some plot holes. But these fly in the face of the very substance the story is centered around. Too bad. It seemed the filmmakers had a point to make, something important to them. But really it was political: “republicans are bad”. Inasmuch as they had a great opportunity here to make a powerful statement by telling a story through film that is based on actual events, the filmmakers seem satisfied with the very politicizing they portray the congresswoman to have.