Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans
Affectionately naming itself a dramatization of actual events before the film even begins, Oliver Stone's Snowden looks to shine a creative and new light on the on-going Edward Snowden story. Beginning as an in-progress look at the days during and after Snowden released top secret information regarding the NSA, most of Snowden relies on backstory reaching as far as almost ten years prior to the last time he took steps on US soil.
One of the most captivating real-life stories in all of modern world history, Edward Snowden's reported betrayal for the sake of whistleblowing is a tough pill to swallow. On one hand, his actions shed light on unprecedented and possibly unlawful surveillance breaches by the US government on citizens around the world. On the other hand, Snowden's revelations acted as a major breach of US government security, creating a system that is both embarrassing and faulty.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who served a caricature misstep in last year's The Walk, masters the look and accent of Snowden in such a subtle, but convincing, way. The film cuts back and forth to the years Snowden went from basic training at Fort Benning to meeting the love of his life, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), to being hired by the CIA.
While the 2014 documentary CitizenFour gave revelers a firsthand look inside the Hong Kong hotel room where Snowden pressed the final computer key to share the information with The Guardian and the world, Stone's Snowden gives a similar glimpse, with Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, and Tom Wilkinson picking up the roles of documentarian Laura Poitras and journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill, respectively. There's a certain excitement in the final moments when The Guardian's editors decide to publish the first of many revealing articles. But, that part of the story isn't used as the meat of the plot here. Instead, it's more of the rise and fall of Snowden's personal morals and beliefs and views on government and human rights. Who began as a staunch, patriotic conservative, Snowden realizes his loyalty to the American government shouldn't falter, which is how he justifies his actions.
There are faults in how Snowden chooses to relay information, or withhold, depending on with whom he's in contact. His biggest struggle comes in his personal relationship with Lindsay. Her free spirit attitude often clashes with Snowden's ever-growing introverted fear of unknown surveillance and this entire world known as the internet.
Everything about Snowden looks covert and important, including the quick-cut editing style and splice of freeform video. Stone masters the soul of what a slice of life biopic should be, especially in allowing Gorden-Levitt the freedom to explore Snowden in such a quiet and meandering way. When the film transitions into a clip of the real-life Snowden at the end, it's even more mesmerizing how apt Gorden-Levitt was at creating such a culturally relevant character.
Rich in intrigue and reigniting the compelling argument of the scope of the NSA's reach, Snowden is director Stone's best work in recent years, palpably giving a mostly two-sided view of America's great hero/anti-hero of the modern era. Over two hours in length, watching this film is a hefty undertaking, but it's one of reward, as the images seen and the ideas depicted will stick with you long after the credits roll.
Runtime: 2h 14min