Dwayne Johnson tries to flex his acting muscles in this smarter-than-usual action movie, based on a true story that gets under our skin. He's never played someone as fragile as this, which is fascinating even if the film ultimately can't resist cranking up the action while turning rather preachy.
Johnson plays John, a construction company owner whose bright 18-year-old son Jason (Gavron) is caught in a drugs sting by an undercover agent (Pepper). Jason is facing 10 years in prison, and offered a way out if he can finger another drug dealer. But he doesn't know any, since he was set up himself. So John makes a deal with a federal prosecutor (Sarandon) to find a big dealer himself. He convinces reluctant ex-con employee Daniel (Bernthal) to work with him, contacting a local dealer (Williams) before going after the kingpin (Bratt). But of course things get increasingly dangerous the deeper they go.
While Johnson's acting chops aren't terribly subtle, he's such a charismatic screen presence that we are fully engaged with him from the start. The tender scenes between him and Gavron add weight to the whole story, while the tetchy connection between him and Bernthal keeps the film on a knife edge. By contrast, Sarandon and Pepper are pretty much just scene-stealing sharks using innocent people to do their dirty work.
Writer-director Waugh keeps the focus on the characters, even in the action set-pieces. This gives the film a darkly honest tone that pulls out real suspense and even some welcome moments of light relief. So by the time the shoot-outs and car chases take over the movie, we are fully invested. And we also can't possibly miss the strongly relevant message: that the war on drugs is a complete sham, targeting the wrong people and imprisoning those whose only real crime is naivete. It's not a subtle or comprehensive look at the issue (for that, watch The House I Live In), but it makes the movie a lot more than just another stupid smash-em-up.
Run time: 112 mins
In Theaters: Friday 22nd February 2013
Box Office USA: $42.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $42.9M
Distributed by: Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment
Production compaines: Exclusive Media Group, Participant Media, Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ, Front Street Productions, Spitfire Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 56%
Fresh: 79 Rotten: 61
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Screenwriter: Justin Haythe, Ric Roman Waugh
Starring: Dwayne Johnson as John Matthews, Barry Pepper as Agent Cooper, Jon Bernthal as Daniel James, Susan Sarandon as Joanne Keeghan, Michael K. Williams as Malik, Rafi Gavron as Jason Collins, Melina Kanakaredes as Sylvie Collins, Nadine Velazquez as Analisa, Benjamin Bratt as Juan Carlos "El Topo" Pintera, Harold Perrineau Jr. as Jeffery Steele, J. D. Pardo as Benicio, Richard Cabral as Flaco, Kym Jackson as Agent Sims, Jason Douglas as Wayne, Kyara Campos as Isabelle Matthews, James Allen McCune as Craig, Ashlynn Ross as Amanda, Spencer Miller as Anthony, Jayson Floyd as Agent Thompson, Benjamin Blankenship as Agent Torres, Darnell Trotter as Bones, Tim J. Smith as Lazy
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