This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 12 May 2013
Dwayne Johnson hasn’t traditionally been one of my favourite movie stars (I’m more of an Edward Norton girl) but I’ll be adding “The Rock” to my list of Must-Sees on the strength of this action-thriller.
Johnson – I just can’t call him Dwayne, no matter how talented or rugged he is – stars as John Matthews, an ordinary guy whose banal name belies the awesomeness with which he leaps to his son’s aid and goes undercover to hunt down a drug-dealer.
Playing slightly against type, Johnson isn’t a gun-toting mercenary but a hard-working business owner who gives ex-cons a second chance and just wants a better relationship with his child. When the son is implicated in a crime with huge repercussions, dad approaches the hard-nosed District Attorney – an excellent Susan Sarandon, off the ropes after that dreadful turn in Arbitrage – to propose a deal: he’ll bring down the crims if his boy can come home.
The film is directed by Ric Roman Waugh, whose nearly 50 films as a stuntman preceded his foray into writing/directing, notably 2008’s Felon, which trod the similar path of an ordinary man forced into a criminal situation in the protection of his family. Impressively, the high production values and Fuqua-esque (Training Day) aesthetic are matched by solid performances from Benjamin Bratt and Barry Pepper (immediate redemption delivered after the deplorable Broken City). There is even a cameo by a favourite actor from The Wire, just to prove this movie’s got street-cred.
Moreover, the moral dilemma at the film’s heart sees not one but two men forced into a predicament that threatens to destroy the life each has built on the right side of the law. It’s brash, unsubtle but nonetheless thrillingly played.