Snowden – **1/2 OUT OF 4
Director Oliver Stone’s work has been notoriously controversial and wildly eclectic since his debut feature Salvador (1986) some 30 years ago. His distrust of the government of the United States has permeated many of his most successful films such as JFK(1991) or Born on the Fourth of July (1989). His latest high profile release titled Snowden (2016) while more of a return to form of the films that have worked in the past is flawed by being unfocused and too flat.
The film tells the story of the NSA contractor who became a whistleblower and fugitive by revealing many secrets of the CIA. Joseph Gordon Levitt and the real Snowden playing himself are more than adequate portraying this recessive and conflicted man. Snowden turned over National Security Agency information to a series of newspapers in 2013 and then went into exile ending up in Putin’s Russia.
Mr. Stone wrote the script with Kieran Fitzgerald and based it on books authored by Luke Harding and Anatoly Kucherena. Both books portray Snowden as a true American hero and this unchallenged position leaves little excitement for the direction of the film’s narrative.
Another troubling aspect of this film is how much Stone depends on the restaging of the interview Snowden gave to Laura Poitras for her award-winning documentary Citizenfour set in the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong. The wonderful character actress Melissa Leo plays Poitras with a gentle touch and the film revisits the interview at numerous points during the story. This structure is this most admirable film’s biggest flaw, We see Snowden in his military days at the CIA Training Center in Virginia and traveling everywhere from Geneva to Maryland in the states.
We also see Snowden’s social life come to fruition at a dating site called Geek-Mate. Snowden meets Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) who presents our hero with a bipolar girlfriend and all that comes with the ensuing personality conflicts.
Snowden is an amusing film that runs too long and lacks the visceral impact it deserves.
Note From Editor Jeremy Taylor:
Just so both sides of the story are told President Obama said “I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot” and Obama’s press secretary Josh Earnest recently told reporters that “Snowden is not a whistleblower,” adding that “his conduct put American lives at risk…and the policy of the Obama administration is that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and face the very serious charges.”