Thursday, 29 September 2016


At the beginning of last year, I reviewed the documentary Citizenfour, which was a blow-by-blow story of Edward Snowden that was made by filmmaker Laura Poitras, who was one of the people Snowden contacted to tell his story right. That film was a masterpiece and when I heard that there was a biopic being made about Snowden, I dismissed it straight away, believing that it would not be able to convey the weight of what he did. But after watching it, I realised that the point wasn't to show people what he had done, but rather to humanise him in the eyes of a public who still vilify him as a traitor.

Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a bright eyed young special forces recruit who is hopeful for a career in the military, but after he breaks both legs, he is discharged and looks for a new way to serve his country. He soon comes upon an opportunity in working for the CIA as an intelligence analyst after going through rigorous training under Corbin O'Brien (Rhys Ifans). His various jobs soon take him around the world and he learns that the NSA has a program that allows them to gather information from everyone in the world. Knowing this makes Snowden increasingly paranoid to the point where he clashes with his girlfriend Lindsay (Shailene Woodley) because he wants to protect her. Soon his conscience gets the better of him and he decides to expose the truth to a handful of journalists including Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto).

Oliver Stone is definitely someone who knows how to make a movie that will appeal to a lot of people, which is something that Citizenfour may have been lacking. While it doesn't go into a great amount of detail about what Snowden leaked, it gives a general overview of what the US government was doing (and still is). This works to the films benefit because any in depth analysis would leave audiences confused. Stone's style of over the top filmmaking draws you into the film and makes you feel a lot of empathy for the characters. This is good because the point of the film is to humanise Snowden. A lot of the media around him portrays him as a cold traitor who has no acknowledgement of the danger he caused with his leak. That couldn't be further from the truth and Stone attempts to show that he is really a patriot who was looking out for his fellow citizens. While the majority of performances are good and exactly what you'd expect from a movie this size, the surprising parts come from the cameos that a director like Oliver Stone can get. Timothy Olyphant, Logan Marshall-Green and Nicolas Cage all pop in small roles. The Nicolas Cage cameo is quite surprising because he's the last person you'd expect to see in this film.

Some of the problems I have with this film have to do with the fact that some of the events of the film have been documented in Citizenfour, yet they are shown differently in this film. Snowden's communication with Poitras is rushed and limited to a single email, whereas in reality the communication took place over many months and only after he failed to contact Glenn Greenwald through a secure means. That's a small thing that was jarring for me and I'm sure would effect others who have seen both. Stone also drags the film out by added smaller details (that go into humanising Snowden) which seem irrelevant. Snowden's diagnosis of epilepsy and his relationship problems really slow the film down in some key parts of the film. Also there is too little time devoted to the time he spent in Hong Kong (probably the most important part of the story). The inclusion of the real Snowden at the end of the film also throws some doubt onto JGL's portrayal of him. In his last couple of films JGL has been making some strange vocal choices and after being able to compare his voice to that of Snowden, you can hear the definite difference.

I had thought that Snowden would present the story in an ambiguous way, leaving you to make up your own mind on whether or not he had done the right thing. But now after seeing the film it's clear that Stone has made it in line with his own left-wing leanings. I'm not saying that his own politics had any input on whether the film is good or not. He has made a film that may not stand the test of time, but for time we live in it's a very good movie.

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