Release Date: September 16, 2016
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson
Director: Oliver Stone
Studio: Endagame Entertainment, Wild Bunch
Distributor: Open Road Films
Review Spoilers: Low, but, ya know, it’s non fiction.
This movie is important. At least, Oliver Stone thinks it is. And everyone else who put it together. And I think it is too. To some that may out me as ignorant. But we’ll get into that. This latest project from Stone tackles the story of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who, in 2013, set the world on fire when he released information detailing the American surveillance of US citizens and allies.
This story has previously been covered in the documentary Citizenfour which won an Oscar in 2015. The making of that documentary, the initial meetings and interview that lead to the stories as well as the duration of Snowden’s career with the government from 2004 – 2013, is what is dramatized in Snowden.
As I said, the movie feels important and that makes it difficult for me to adequately judge it on the two separate fronts. Is the movie engaging? Yes, well paced and tense throughout. The plot interesting? Absolutely. The acting is good, Gordon-Levitt’s vocal change seen in the trailer which originally had me worried ended up working very well throughout the film.
The rest of that cast is well used, particularly folks like Timothy Olyphant as a greasy CIA agent and Scott Eastwood as a patriotic middle management, good ol’ boy. But all of that is secondary to the message, the story of a man who found out just what kind of shady stuff the shady part of our government was getting up to and the struggle to tackle it.
That message also leads to the biggest question of this movie, and what I’ll spend most my time discussing. Who is this movie for exactly? As mentioned there was already a highly regarded documentary on the subject very recently, so it can’t be for anyone who has seen that.
The movie spends much of its time humanizing Snowden and his girlfriend, played by Shailene Woodley, giving them real three dimensional personalities, creating context for the names and ideas heard in the media over the past several years. We see him as a wannabe soldier, going hunting, speaking highly of the right wing politics.
In broad strokes, it shows that Snowden started out as the type of dude who would be entirely against what he later does. In that way you’d think this is a movie to convince folks who are against Snowden that maybe, just maybe he did the right thing. But just getting them into the theater would be the biggest hurdle, and I’m not sure the marketing did enough work to get over that.
No, this movie is instead for the folks just slightly on the fence, those who probably from the scant details they know (being too lazy to read many articles, or uninterested in nitty-gritty facts, which I totally understand! Sometimes it is hard to keep on top of the bad news) already side with Snowden but have waited for the information to be delivered in a more digestible form.
So here it is, the dramatization of nearly a decade of a man’s life to convince those who only needed a nudge that what he did was right.
Final Thoughts: On its own, Snowden is an enjoyable flick, if you can somehow ignore the reality that it exists in. Otherwise it is an entertaining, more easily digestible discourse on some sketchy events that we all have lived through and, in my case at least, regrettably paid little attention.
As I said, I think this movie is important in informing folks who would otherwise continue to blissfully ignore the unfortunate state. If you are in the smallest way curious about what this whole thing was about, catch Snowden. Oh, and Oliver Stone has a little piece to say before the flick in theaters, so that’s fun.