Snowden – Review

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On paper, Snowden sounds like it has all the ingredients for one of the year’s best films. The cast is nothing short of first-rate and our main character is one of the most intriguing individuals of recent times. Plus, the director is Oliver Stone, who seems like the ideal match for this material. Yet, Snowden never really stands out as a great movie. With that said, this is still solid entertainment. Just don’t go in expecting the next Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, or Nixon. It’s much closer to being the next World Trade Center or W. At least that’s better than being the next Alexander, though.

Snowden never really stands out as a great movie. With that said, this is still solid entertainment.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt adds to his ever-growing résumé of electrifying performances as Edward Snowden. Like the protagonists in almost every Oliver Stone picture, Snowden is a patriotic American that wants nothing more than to serve his country. When he’s unable to make it in the Army, Snowden joins the CIA to put his brilliant mind to use. He quickly finds, however, that Uncle Sam isn’t as clean-cut as he seems. The government has taken surveillance to the ultimate extreme, reading personal emails and spying on US citizens through their own webcams. Snowden becomes increasingly concerned upon joining the NSA and is eventually compelled to expose the truth.

In 2013, Snowden meets with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson). This is where the movie truly shines, as Snowden shares classified information with the press. Much like Spotlight, these scenes demonstrate the importance of investigative journalism, especially in today’s world. It would have been nice if there were more moments with Leo, Quinto, and Wilkinson, but the film is called Snowden after all.

Gordon-Levitt is terrific as our titular character, portraying a noble man torn between his country and what’s right. Shailene Woodley, who hopefully doesn’t need to do any more of those Divergent movies, is wonderful as Snowden’s dedicated girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. Rhys Ifans is particularly effective as Snowden’s boss, who simply dominates every scene he’s in with an overbearing presence. Director Stone often creates an uncomfortable, chilling atmosphere that leaves the audience in a constant state of paranoia.

Gordon-Levitt is terrific as our titular character, portraying a noble man torn between his country and what’s right.

While Snowden is well acted and well made, it can come off as repetitive. We know what Stone is trying to say and where this story will go. So after a while, you can’t help but wish Stone would just get to the point already. On top of that, it’s not like this is the first movie to address the phenomenon of Big Brother. We’ve seen this issue tackled in everything from The Dark Knight to Adventure Time. At 134 minutes, Snowden can feel needlessly long. Of course this is an Oliver Stone movie. Compared to some of his other work, the running time here is actually fairly tamed.

The film’s depiction of Snowden is also a little too sanctimonious. Although nobody can deny Snowden was a whistleblower, it’s still debatable if he was hero or a traitor. This picture might have been more interesting if it had taken a unbiased approach to its subject matter. Yet, Stone’s depiction is pretty one-sided and doesn’t leave much room for discussion.

While by no means perfect, Snowden is still a thoroughly engaging biopic with several thrilling moments, stimulating conversations, and fine performances. It might fall short of expectations if you’ve already seen the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour. Yet, there’s more than enough room for both films. The same could be said about Man on Wire and The Walk… which also ironically starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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