By Neil Jordan
Greetings & Salutations Movie Fanatics!
When you break it down to the simplest definition, movies are entertainment. Comedies, dramas, sci-fi, horror, mysteries, epics, etc. They’re an escape. Time away from the world and our everyday lives. Every once in a while though a film comes along and even if it is completely or in part a work of fiction, it has some basis to current goings-on in the real world and encourages us to sit up and take notice at what is going on out there. Today’s selection for your consideration is one of THOSE films.
Edward Snowden. Traitor, spy, sell out, turncoat, hero, pioneer, champion, defender, upholder, protector, whistleblower. He has been referred to as all those and more. Regardless of what anyone thinks, he has been vilified and celebrated . The American intelligence contractor who leaked classified NSA files to the media in 2013 regarding ‘questionable’ intelligence gathering by American security services had something he felt was important enough to risk his freedom and possibly his life to tell the American people and the world. The director who would tackle the challenge of making a film based on his story? None other than Oliver Stone.
‘Snowden’ is a German-American political biographical thriller film written for the screen by Kieran Fitzgerald and Oliver Stone and also directed by Stone. Based on the books ‘Time of the Octopus’ by Anatoly Kucherena (Snowden’s real life Russian lawyer) and ‘The Snowden Files’ by Luke Harding, ‘Snowden’ stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role, Shailene Woodley as Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Scott Eastwood, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Nicholas Cage, Joely Richardson, Rhys Ifans, Ben Schnetzer, and LaKeith Lee Stanfeild.
The film follows Snowden form his early days in the CIA to his postings in Europe and Asia and eventually to Hawaii where he would decide to go through with his attempt to smuggle classified intelligence files out of an NSA facility and meet with journalists he had previously contacted in Hong Kong where he would tell them what he had uncovered in his time working in the employ of American intelligence agencies and share that knowledge with the public. Along the way, the film also deals with the ‘crisis of conscience’ Snowden dealt with. How a patriotic conservative aspiring soldier whom believed in his country without question became a patriotic ‘concerned citizen’ who was greatly disturbed by actions being carried out by his country all in the name of ‘national security’. We also see the relationships that Snowden had cultivated in the midst of it all. His mentors and colleagues in the CIA, NSA, and the military. How he came to meet his longtime girlfriend, artist Lindsay Mills and how his interactions with a few of them further influenced or didn’t influence the future actions he would take.
In the end, you can sum up the film this way:
Privacy vs. Safety
Rights vs. Security
Is there are balance that can be maintained?
Snowden violated security oaths because he felt obligated to his county and his fellow citizens.
Should he be punished?
I’m giving this film 3 1/2 out of five stars. I highly recommend it. A most excellent performance by the entire cast. Praise in particular to Joseph Gordon-Levitt who was ‘believable’ as Edward Snowden and managed to NOT BE Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The reason I’m not giving the film a higher rating is that I don’t think it was ‘edgy’ enough. I think Oliver Stone did a good job directing the film but it didn’t have any ‘edge’ to it. In his past films, the films end up ‘so far out there’ that they become almost unbelievable. I believe his paranoia, specifically his fear of interference in the film’s production by the NSA, may have negatively influenced him prompting him to ‘play it safe’ and play it safe too much. The did a good job ‘telling the story’ but that’s it. It was like watching the steady reading of an EKG meter hooked up to a healthy person. Every once in a while, you get slightly elevated readings. But that’s it.
Regardless though, I do indeed recommend the film. It dramatizes a current subject that folks need to know and should know of. The nature of the subject is such that as an American citizen, we need to know about it and although it is a movie. It will open the door for those who haven’t keep track of the situation and for those who do know about it, the movie will help place things in perspective.
This is is your friendly neighborhood freelance photographer ‘The CameraMan’ and on behalf of myself and my fellows at ‘Skewed & Reviewed’ I’d like to say, Thanks for reading and we’ll see you at the movies.
Second review by Jeremiah Scott
As with every Oliver Stone movie, you have to consider context while watching it. Snowden is a persuasive essay attempting to turn the focus from the crime committed by Edward Snowden to the mass surveillance practices of the US government during the Bush and Obama administration. This story was huge when the leaks began hitting the internet and so I was very familiar with the story through the media coverage ensued. Through that coverage it was made to seem as though Snowden, a low level contractor, stole data and was putting it on the internet to spite the American government.
Later more information came forth that he wasn’t as low level as we were led to believe and that Snowden was claiming that he performed the illegal act out of love for his country, not out of spite to harm it. But for a large portion of the country the original story has already been burned into their brain and nothing short of Ronald Reagan descending from heaven to tell them otherwise will change that. A few months ago Donald Trump even called for Snowden’s execution, if that helps paint a picture of the mindset of a portion of the US population about Edward Snowden.
This movie was made to convince you otherwise, that Snowden was and still is a brave American hero. It tells the story beginning with his Special Forces training and takes you all the way through the incident and up to present day, with the actual infamous Edward Snowden closing out the movie. I won’t go into too much detail here because I hate when reviews ruin a movie but I will say that it covers the whole story right down to the Ocean Eleven’s esque way that he got the files out of secured US spy facility.
This movie surprisingly also weaves a love story in and out of the technical background of the data release and while I enjoyed that aspect of the movie, some of it made me question its authenticity… it wasn’t realistic at times how the two reacted to different problems that arose in their relationship.
I left the movie thinking how strange it was that the espionage was the most believable part of the movie and the love story seemed contrived.
Joseph Gorden-Levitt was awesome. I’ve watched enough Snowden videos to know that he nailed it. The love interest was cute and likeable, but the primary antagonist was a bit over the top for a movie based on reality. But I guess that’s what this movie was trying to tell me… that there are some seriously evil people working for our government.
The pacing was good, acting was great, subject matter was insanely interesting and the love story humanized the hacker/criminal/hero. Go see it with an open mind, consider the context with which the film was created and come to your own conclusion. Snowden… hero or villain?
4.5 out of 5