'Snowden' is a riveting personal look at one of the most polarising figures of the 21st century, the man responsible for what has been described as the most far-reaching security breach in U.S. intelligence history. 'Snowden' opens the door on the untold story of Edward Snowden, examining the forces that turned a conservative young patriot eager to serve his country into a historic whistle-blower and posing provocative questions about which liberties we are willing to give up in order for our government to protect us.
Nowhere near as tense and thrilling as its documentary counterpart Citizenfour, Snowden by Oliver Stone can still become a source of an entertaining afternoon – but only if you enter the experience with low expectations and/or haven’t yet watched the far superior accompanying feature by Laura Poitras. Main difference is: Snowden cares to explain all successive actions that lead to Mr. Edward Snowden making that final decision that we all know about. Citizenfour on the other hand, jumps in medias res and doesn’t care for anything that doesn’t concern Snowden, his materials, his actions and part of the upcoming repercussions.
If I can go back in time and unlearn some things, I would personally opt for Snowden first, and then Citizenfour afterwards.
For those hiding under a rock, or stuck between a rock and a hard place, or just plainly enjoying rock ‘n roll – Snowden is a biographical drama/thriller about what lead to Edward Snowden’s decision to ‘betray’ the CIA, NSA and bunch of other USA agencies and release a large chunk of confidential materials to the public. Snowden however didn’t want his expertise to bring bias to the equation, so he called few journalists, namely Laura Poitras (played by Melissa Leo) and Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) in order to decide how best to publish said materials. Snowden himself is portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who gives perhaps his best performance till date that highlights his acting skills and leaves nothing to chance. Just as the real-life Edward Snowden, who made sure the files were encrypted and all data transfer was safe from prying eyes.
Snowden is a well-put together film with several nuisances: Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) is depicted in a low-light setting – as if she was the dumbest, shallowest person that has walked upon the Earth. She constantly misunderstands general knowledge (in the film) and is downright annoying for one to hear her adolescent banter about love and such. I’m sure the real-life person behind the actress has more qualities than just complaining about first-world problems and misunderstanding her boyfriends’ job and the responsibility he bears.
The film’s best scenes come when the personnel working within NSA’s facilities starts to question real-world moral dilemmas: is it OK if we kill people with unmanned drones? Why if these people were never guilty in the first place? What if, in fact, they were unarmed civilians that merely wanted to cross the street and buy some food? What if they were children, and then the family attending their own child’s funeral? When questions like these are asked, Snowden quickly gets struck down by his epilepsy – a condition that represents both his current mental state, and the chain-of-command inside the government agencies that is impervious to human compassion and empathy toward others.
The agencies themselves are best portrayed via a certain scene involving a senior CIA officer who looms his presence over Snowden and exclaims in a calm manner that his every single move is being monitored by the agency. He also mentions his girlfriend in a context that pushes Snowden over the edge and makes him pull off the final move that would seal his destiny and change his life forever.
Snowden by Oliver Stone offers some insight into how things work within closed doors, but doesn’t offer anything new that we haven’t read, or seen, or witnessed ourselves in regards to the mass surveillance program conducted by the Big Brother that is NSA.