Put your phones in the microwave and cover your webcams – you never know who’s watching or listening
Snowden tells the story of Edward Snowden’s career within the CIA and NSA and how he blew the whistle by exposing secret government documents to the press.From an undisclosed hotel room in Hong Kong in June 2013 Edward Snowden went on the record to two journalists from the Guardian newspaper and a documentary filmmaker to expose secret government documents. These documents detailed how the NSA and CIA had the capability to surveil any citizen through access to their personal email accounts among many other things. Snowden picks up from when Edward (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) initially met Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), journalists for the Guardian, and Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), a documentary filmmaker, in Hong Kong.Tucked away in Edward’s hotel room the three of them begin to go through and document all the details in preparation for shedding light on the subject of surveillance by exposing everything to the public. Through a series of flashbacks Edward explains how he got into the CIA after a serious injury prevented him joining the Special Forces and resulted in him being discharged. Flitting back and forth we the audience are shown Edward’s moral conscience brought into focus as he himself begins to question the tactics these government agencies are using – all in the name of preventing terrorism.
Oliver Stone is no stranger to biopics or politically charged and controversial films such as JFK, Nixon and World Trade Centre so it comes as little surprise that he has taken on this story dealing with a whistle blower exposing the government's wrong-doings. However, the central story tends to get waylaid by the more personal side of Edward Snowden. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of detail and jargon in this film and it does make an attempt to deal with the main subject matter, but it does seem to pay close attention on the relationship between Edward and his girlfriend Lindsay (Shailene Woodley) giving the impression that the tensions between them is the main catalyst for his whistle blowing.
It’s no secret how Edward’s story ends and with this in mind it is key to make sure that there is a sense of tension built up throughout the film to keep audiences interested and invested. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen. There is a brief moment with an SD card which almost gets the heart racing but just as it gets going, its over in a flash. There’s an obvious endeavour to sex this potentially geeky film up a bit with a scene in a strip club, Lindsay’s nude pictures, her pole dancing classes and a sex scene. Stone’s attempts to make all this fit within the narrative is tenuous at best and even if there is any truth to it, it should almost remain a side note.
Big set pieces don't make up for the oomph this film is lacking
Stone delivers huge set pieces showcasing secret government lairs buried underground and plenty of computer tech to really set the scene but that’s pretty much all he manages to do, set the scene. The addition of electro dance music over some scenes appears to be a desperate attempt to bring a retro anarchist essence of hacking to the fore reminiscent of the film Hackers. There is some good camera work giving the film an underlying sense that everyone is being watched which is combined with shots of close circuit cameras, microphones and extreme close ups throughout. The political theme is present but nowhere near as in your face as some of Stone's other films, this time delivered subtly and through the point of view of Edward and Lindsay’s characters.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays Edward Snowden with a restrained quality, rarely displaying much emotion. It’s a role that suits him rather well but there isn’t a whole lot to get behind or for him to work with it seems. His life is explained through a series of job interviews, and the aforementioned flashbacks, where he details his past and family ties to the government. But at no point is there any sense of real likability. Woodley’s Lindsay is very singular and comes across more as a hindrance to Edward than anything else. In much the same way as Gordon-Levitt, there probably wasn’t much for her to really sink her teeth into and the script leaves her character being somewhat one dimensional. The real standout performance for me comes from Rhys Ifans as Corbin O’Brian, who takes Edward under his wing. With a deep, gruff American accent and tailored suits Ifans is a far cry from his role in Notting Hill. A small and practically pointless role comes from Nicholas Cage, who’s not the all-American hero he was in Stone’s World Trade Centre. This time he’s a slightly paunchy professor tucked away tinkering with old code cracking devices.
Snowden on the surface looks like it’s going to be a thrilling film detailing the events that led up to Edward’s revealing of top secret government information but in reality it’s a slow ride with little to no payoff. It’s a fairly long film and one where you feel every minute ticking by. It did start off well and was reasonably informative and interesting but by about half way through I was anticipating the finish line. However it’s not an entirely bad film and some of the revelations will no doubt have you covering up the cameras on your laptops.
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