Directed by Oliver Stone.
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Joely Richardson, Ben Schnetzer, Scott Eastwood, and Nicolas Cage.
The Story of Edward Snowden, whistle-blower of the NSA’s illegal surveillance techniques. The film follows his life and the impact of his actions as he releases thousands of classified documents to the public.
The US government could be watching you right now. After the explosive revelations regarding the reach of the surveillance state, we all looked at that ominous pinhole webcam nestled atop our screens with a lot more suspicion. It’s a concern that is as relevant today as it ever was, the news still reporting on supposed wiretapping and hacking. Oliver Stone’s latest film Snowden manages to give an accessible account of mass surveillance and the moral questions behind it, whilst focusing on the personal story of the man who exposed it all, Edward Snowden.
As a biopic, it’s pretty obvious that the concentration will be on Snowden himself played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) but director Oliver Stone’s real focus is on what made a patriot and former soldier go on to release state secrets. The films bookend style opening starts with Snowden meeting reporters in a Hong Kong as he is about to hand over information. This is where be begins telling his story. As we follow his life, we see the strain and impact that whistleblowing has had on him and it’s this first hour of the film which is its best but things begin to drag slightly as it heads towards its conclusion.
In portraying Snowden, Gordon-Levitt is able to deliver the emotion and empathetic performance required, unfortunately, his character might be too realistic as at points his soft mannered computer nerd becomes slightly dull in comparison to the web of explosive secrets he is about to release. The script doesn’t help him with some rather clichéd signposts, for example, the way he carries around a Rubix Cube a lazy way of showing our main protagonist is a geek.
The tension it’s creating in his relationship with his girlfriend played by Shailene Woodley (Divergent), is where tempers clash. She is a liberal influence on him but also struggles with his drive to reveal the truth, as she says “well I have nothing to hide, so who cares.” Rhys Ifans (The Amazing Spider-Man) puts in a shift as Corbin O’Brian, who mentors Snowden through the CIA but the film widely under uses the other actors here. Nicolas Cage is anonymous as Hank Forrester and Zachary Quinto has trouble adding any urgency as reporter Glenn.
Three-time Oscar winner, Oliver Stone is usually a steady hand in making a political thriller but his viewpoint can’t ever be described as nuanced. Where Snowden really works is how it is able to put a human face to the moral ambiguity and the struggle whistleblowers face but he is never really represented as anything other than a hero. Obviously, that depends on your political viewpoint but there isn’t really much exploration of civil liberty V state security. However, the film does raise the right questions about our personal liberties and what we would be willing to give up in the name of national protection.
Snowden (and the documentary on the subject CitizenFour) really are essential viewing of our time. The constant battle between the personal freedoms we hold and the overreaching of the state are fundamental now and will be even more so in the future. It’s a brave subject to tackle and to his credit director, Oliver Stone delivers a very watchable examination of the personal impact behind whistleblower, Edward Snowden. It is a film that isn’t without its flaws with some questionable characters and pacing as the latter half of the film becomes laboured and loses momentum (there is only so much urgency you can make when the location is a small Hong Kong hotel room).
However, If you want an accessible, personal story of the man who lifted the lid on the most shocking revelation of modern times then Snowden is definitely worth a watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★