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dir Ric Roman Waugh
scr Justin Haythe, Ric Roman Waugh
prd Tobin Armbrust, Guy East, David Fanning, Dany Garcia, Matt Jackson, Alexander Yves Brunner, Dwayne Johnson, Jonathan King, Nigel Sinclair
with Dwayne Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Michael K Williams, Rafi Gavron, Benjamin Bratt, Harold Perrineau, Melina Kanakaredes, Nadine Velazquez, Lela Loren, JD Pardo
release US 22.Feb.13, UK 21.Jun.13
13/US Summit 1h52
Undercover: Bernthal and Johnson
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Based on a true story, this down and dirty thriller refuses to indulge in the usual action movie structure, instead allowing its protagonists to be fragile men who are more terrified than heroic. It's intense and involving from the start, even when it turns preachy.
Construction company owner John (Johnson) is shocked when his bright 18-year-old Jason (Gavron) is caught in a sting by undercover Agent Cooper (Pepper) and now faces 10 years in prison unless he fingers someone else. So John contacts federal prosecutor Joanne (Sarandon) and offers to set up someone for his son, working with with ex-con employee Daniel (Bernthal), who's understandably hesitant to cooperate but makes contact with local dealer Malik (Williams). But things get increasingly perilous when the cartel kingpin (Bratt) turns up.
It's intriguing to see Johnson in a warm father-son drama for a change Even if we can tell that it'll turn into an action movie, the tender scenes between him and Gavron nicely set the tone for what follows. And there's intriguing tension between Johnson and Bernthal, as Daniel struggles with what he sees as a personal failure to go straight. Meanwhile, Sarandon and Pepper are superb as snaky officials using innocent people to do their dirty work.
Director-cowriter Waugh keeps the tone dark and dramatic, stressing out the characters so severely that they're unable to have even a moment of real-life levity. Every scene is packed with moral complexity, as John and Daniel go in far over their heads. Of course, Johnson's hulking presence hints that this isn't going to remain low-key and earthy. And sure enough, there are plenty of rough and nasty car chases and shootouts.
From the start it's clear that this is a passionate critique of the drug-enforcement system, which targets the wrong people and encourages the excessive imprisonment of those whose only crime is naivete. That a father and an ex-con must do the work the police should be doing seems implausible. But the outrageous truth, as documented in non-fiction films like The House I Live In, is that the police, politicians and the Feds are simply getting it wrong. And maybe an only slightly boneheaded movie like this will help a wider audience see that.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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