Oliver Stone’s Snowden is a film that I went into with some preconceptions based on things I had read ahead of time. I’m happy to say that my worst of my fears turned out to be unfounded, though I was left with some disappointment based on wrong expectations. I’ll begin with what I was happy with, and then discuss the things I thought would be different.
As most readers are probably aware, Edward Snowden was a US National security agent who gathered classified information about the bulk data being collected by the US government on its, and other countries, citizens, and leaked this information to the press. He is seen by some as a traitor who endangered national security by revealing top secret information, and by others as a heroic whistleblower who risked his own freedom and comfort in order to warn the world about the excesses of government overreach.
While Snowden’s story is one of espionage and intrigue, it’s not one with a lot of guns blazing and suspenseful action sequences. I had read some things online that left me concerned this was going to be a long, plodding, slow burn of a movie, much as I found Stone’s Nixon movie to be. I’m pleased to say that I did not find this to be the case at all. I was actually quite riveted throughout the nearly two and a half hour running time. I was drawn into the story of Snowden’s life as a young CIA recruit, his love affair with his girlfriend, the twists and turns his career took as he moved up the chain of national intelligence, and his final decision to capture and leak the information that he did.
However, I also read some things that led me to believe this film was making an earnest attempt to provide an even-handed portrait of Edward Snowden and his actions. I expected it to be a film that would allow you to come out of it and make up your own mind as to whether he was a hero or a traitor. This turned out to be a completely mistaken assumption. Oliver Stone makes no bones about his total admiration for Snowden in this movie, and has subsequently been leading a movement to try and get Snowden a presidential pardon for bringing these issues to light. There’s not a lot of grey in this film, Edward Snowden is completely and absolutely the hero.
I was also disappointed that I didn’t learn more from watching this movie. The Edward Snowden revelations have already received so much coverage in the press that there wasn’t a whole lot that was new here. I’d already read and heard quite a bit about the extent of government surveillance that was revealed, and the film doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. The main “new” information that I learned is that he had a girlfriend who was with him while all this was going on, and that he loves her very much. Knowing that does flesh him out a bit more as a character, but that was my main “new” take away.
In conclusion, Snowden is a well-crafted movie that kept my interest and showed me a little more of the “human” angle of this person who we mostly know as a media soundbite. It was interesting to watch his career grow and his perspectives change as he became exposed to higher levels of government secrecy. I found the film wholly engrossing throughout its runtime. However, when all is said and done, in the end I’m not certain that I learned very much and I would have liked a narrative that gave me more of a chance to draw my own conclusions, rather than being presented with such a definitive one-sided view.
Rating: 3 and a half stars
Academy Award®-winning director Oliver Stone, who brought Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street and JFK to the big screen, tackles the most important and fascinating true story of the 21st century. Snowden, the politically-charged, pulse-pounding thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley, reveals the incredible untold personal story of Edward Snowden, the polarizing figure who exposed shocking illegal surveillance activities by the NSA and became one of the most wanted men in the world. He is considered a hero by some, and a traitor by others. No matter which you believe, the epic story of why he did it, who he left behind, and how he pulled it off makes for one of the most compelling films of the year.
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Scott Eastwood, Joely Richardson, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Schnetzer
Writers: Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone
Director: Oliver Stone