Snowden

Review by Adam Lee Davies @exrenthell

Directed by

Oliver Stone

Starring

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Rhys Ifans Shailene Woodley

Anticipation.

Feels like this movie should have been made a couple of years ago, but if Oliver Stone can’t hit this one out of the park...

Enjoyment.

Not much. JGL does a good shift and there are some fun cameos.

In Retrospect.

Laura Poitras already nailed this subject with her film CITIZENFOUR.

The celebrity NSA whistleblower gets the hagiography he (possibly) deserves care of Oliver Stone.

Oliver Stone is a stone cold legend. A major league paladin. A legendary gallant. A heavy, heavy dude who has done more than enough in his career to gain admittance to Valhalla, or whatever other bullshit macho hunting grounds he so desires. But even the greatest warriors slow and weaken with age, and it’s fair to say that the Oliver Stone that directed Snowden is not the same bloodthirsty psychotropic iconoclast who gave us Wall Street or JFK.

Stone’s films used to be culture-level hurricanes. Platoon all-but invented the entire Vietnam-via-Motown genre. An entire cosmos of Kennedy assassination-related films, documentaries and books spun into life after JFK. The Doors exhumed Jim Morrison’s hungover corpse and foisted it onto a whole new generation of “Baudelairian seekers” (students). These were news items and conversation starters, but they were also great films informed by a blustering intelligence, a manic eye and a walloping heart.

Stone’s new film is about Edward Snowden, the CIA agent who in 2013 leaked classified information concerning secret NSA surveillance programmes and is currently holed up somewhere in Russia. It feels like it was made as a chore. An unfortunate necessity that had to be gotten out of the way in order for Stone to get onto chat shows and give interviews where he can expound on the erosion of civil liberty and the inexorable creep of government agencies into our everyday lives.

As recently as 2012, his seminal TV documentary series The Untold History of the United States proved that the brain, the imagination and the eye for constructing layered, complex stories in engaging, penetrative fashion was still there. Snowden lacks any such fire, conviction or rigour. It could easily have been made by a first-time filmmaker or an erstwhile jobbing documentarian.

And so we get a purely head-on, top-down biography of Snowden that asks no real questions about the effects of his actions and instead raises him to the level of unconditional sainthood. Had this story been told in an interesting manner, or with some of Stone’s old vim, this might not have mattered so much. But denuded of the breakneck editing, temporal juxtapositions and gnawing doubt/mania that enlivened real-life tales such as JFK and Nixon, we are left with thin gruel indeed.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (fine) plays Snowden as a concerned, conservative, slowly beguiled then abruptly horrified freedom warrior who is sickened by the perversions of power his government have engineered. His life is cushy, he is dutiful, and yet he craves a splash of flashy 007 adventure as a field officer. There’s your movie right there! Imagine what Mad, Bad Oliver Stone would have done with that one-line description in his heyday? Distrust, vanity, pride, a madballs government conspiracy, paranoia up the yin yang? All of these juicy angles are set aside in favour of a straightforward, unquestioning biopic of a dull man who very publicly quit his job.

One scene sums up the energy and commitment to cinema that runs through the film. It features Snowden’s boss, played – for some reason – by Rhys Ifans, sitting in his home office when the phone rings, informing him of his employee’s treachery. Earlier in the film we are strenuously informed that Ifans’ character is fond of hunting. And so it is that everything in his office, on his desk and on his walls is related to the killing of animals (and some fish). Stuffed ducks, mounted guns, a little desk cannon and gaudily framed hunting portraits abound. It is the set of a comedy sketch about an arrogant, monied panjandrum brought low by the actions of a pipsqueak underling. And sitting among all the rich leather, tweed and entitlement? A slightly oversized and completely out of place black coffee mug bearing the words ‘The Boss’.

Also stars Nicolas Cage.

Published 8 Dec 2016

Tags: Edward Snowden Joseph Gordon-Levitt Oliver Stone Shailene Woodley

Anticipation.

Feels like this movie should have been made a couple of years ago, but if Oliver Stone can’t hit this one out of the park...

Enjoyment.

Not much. JGL does a good shift and there are some fun cameos.

In Retrospect.

Laura Poitras already nailed this subject with her film CITIZENFOUR.

Related Reviews

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CITIZENFOUR

By David Jenkins

Laura Poitras’ real-life spy thriller shows how and why Edward Snowden stepped up to blow the whistle on government spying.

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