Movie Review: SNOWDEN
In June 2013, the United States’ intelligence community, including the National Security Agency, was rocked when analyst Edward Snowden revealed details of its global surveillance program. The program was barely legal and an invasion of privacy not only for people in other countries, but also for American citizens. Snowden’s disclosures made him a hero to some and a traitor to others.
Oliver Stone’s Snowden is a film that tries to start a conversation. Does the government have the right to skirt the law in the name of “security”? What is security today? For the most Snowden succeeds in this despite getting a little preachy in parts. But it’s true strength lies in humanizing the man himself.
The film wants you, the audience, to question how much you trust your government. This is nothing new in a Oliver Stone film, however there is a charming naivete this time around. It may turn some off, but Snowden appeals to our belief in the ideals of the United States. It tells us that it is the most American thing to question those in power. To hold them accountable because no one else will.
That said, Snowden gets very preachy in some parts, especially towards the end. In addition to being a little too long, the conclusion takes a turn that plays like a love letter to the man. This is coming from someone who agrees with what Snowden did: It’s incredibly heavy handed and unnecessary. The film hammers into us how down to earth and unassuming Snowden is as a man, yet it feels like an egotistical conclusion.
But in the end, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Edward Snowden is the film. I know it sounds like I’m stating the obvious…he is the main character after all. But his portrayal of Snowden is so likeable, even relatable, that you can’t help but root for the man. Levitt carries a certain human awkwardness that never goes into caricature. There is an eagerness to please about Levitt’s Snowden here that is never annoying.
Levitt’s Snowden is a simply a man who wants to do the right thing. To the detriment of almost every other facet of his life, Snowden dives head long into his work at the various intelligence agencies he works for. He begins to walk around like there is a literal weight on his shoulders. The toll it takes is expertly portrayed by Levitt.
And the love story between Snowden and Shailene Woodley’s Lindsay Mills works very well. Walking into Snowden, I was worried that it was a tacked on love story, a crass attempt to humanize the title character. But the chemistry between Levitt and Woodley is surprisingly sweet. Their relationship forms much of the heart of the film, giving Snowden something more personal to fight for.
That said, Lindsay Mills is a bit of an empty shirt. Woodley does well with what she is given, but other than being Snowden’s love interest there’s not a whole lot to the character. Yes, there is a sweetness to her and the relationship, but you never learn a whole lot about her. We only see Lindsay through Snowden’s eyes.
The only constant actors are Levitt and Lindsay, but a parade of well-known actors come in and out, much like many of Oliver Stone’s other films. Standouts include Rhys Ifans as creepy CIA boss Corbin O’Brian, Zachary Quinto as hard charging reporter Glenn Greenwald and a surprisingly subdued (Well, for him) Nicholas Cage as an early mentor to Snowden. While seeing more of characters like Ifans’ O’Brian (He disappears for a long stretch of the film) would have been great, it’s completely understandable…this is a film about Snowden.
Snowden does its best to show us what the US government is doing, but unfortunately ends up having to tell us. When there is this much information involving servers, cell phones and laptop cameras it can get a bit daunting to take it all in. Stone and the other filmmakers do their best to use CGI sequences to spiff up the proceedings, but eventually Levitt’s Snowden ends up explaining most of it.
The film also tries to shoe horn some “political thriller” scenes that feel out of place, especially since the majority of the film is told in flashback form. We know the outcome for the most part not only because the incident is fresh in our minds, but the film starts right after Snowden has made contact with reporters.
I have a rule when it comes to history and film: Never rely on films for accuracy in history. There are a number of reasons for this. Films rely on cohesive narratives, sympathetic characters, and comfortable running times rather than complete accuracy. A mainstream narrative film is probably not the best place to find the most honest take on Edward Snowden.
It is a good place to see a decent film though.
Score: 7.5 out of 10
Movie Review: SNOWDEN