Movie Review: Snowden

By Andrew Burns, Contributor

[Endgame; 2016]

Rating: 5.5/10

There may not be anyone in the film industry who likes directing biopics more than Oliver Stone. Stone has covered controversial subjects from George W. Bush to Jim Morrison, but perhaps none as controversial as Edward Snowden. Stone’s political beliefs have never been subtle so the goal of the film is obvious. With Snowden, Stone would like to raise awareness of the NSA surveillance scandal. It is an important problem to raise awareness of, but was Snowden the best way to do so? By addressing the issue through a biopic, Snowden further associates the face of Edward Snowden with the issue. Edward Snowden is the reason for the issue to be discussed, but making him the poster child of the issue may be an issue. If Snowden is considered the sole leader of the anti-surveillance movement, the movement becomes susceptible to character attacks. Snowden’s character has already been attacked through claims of treason. Resting the movement on Snowden’s shoulders could potentially harm it long term.  

Politics aside, Snowden is one of the weaker Stone films. Stone has been in a directing slump for well over a decade and Snowden showed the potential to return him to form. Snowden is not a particularly bad film, it just fails to live up to the standards Stone set for his filmmaking with films like PlatoonJFK, and Natural Born Killers. The film’s story structure is bland and makes the viewer wonder how Stone could possibly make it over two hours long. Through flashbacks and a forced romance story, the film does find its length, but it brings the movie down. Shailene Woodley’s character is completely unbearable. She’s not unbearable from a poor performance, but from horrible writing. Her character is an angry individual, who has no patience for those suffering from depression. One can only hope the real life person this character is based on was actually loving and supportive of Edward Snowden in his time of need.  

Snowden faces the same problem in production that All the President’s Men faced. All the President’s Men told the story of the Watergate scandal a mere two years after it broke. The writers faced a huge problem trying to depict the events still fresh in the public’s memory while keeping them in suspense. Snowden chose to focus on events not depicted in Citizenfour, a documentary on Snowden and the NSA surveillance scandal, to keep the audience invested. The best scenes in Snowden were at the Citizenfour interviews when the camera was not rolling for the documentary.  

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fantastic as Edward Snowden. He perfectly captures Snowden’s tone and behaviors. The character is an efficient vehicle for raising awareness of the surveillance issue, although there may be problems with making Snowden so iconic.

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