2016, Movies

Snowden (2016, Oliver Stone)

I’m not really sure why this movie exists, except that some people believe that people won’t watch documentaries, but will watch Hollywood films starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. If you’ve seen Citizenfour – and you should see it – you don’t need to watch this.

On the positive side Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent as Snowden – he has his mannerisms and his voice down and I forgot I was watching an actor I’ve watched on screen since he and I were teenagers. And the rest of the cast is good or fine. And there are tons of famous actors in minor roles clearly happy to be in a movie they think is a big deal. The cast is certainly excellent

Why so many fine actors? Well, because this tells Snowden’s personal story more than Citizenfour does. Well, it tells a Hollywood version and that’s one reason the whole thing feels kind of false. The romantic conflict feels entirely unnecessary to the story if what you care about is state surveillance, and adds a lot of time to the movie. (It’s not a tight film.) I have no idea how accurate it is. And then there’s the dialogue: it’s expository, with people who work for the CIA/NSA/military industrial complex regularly explaining to other people in the CIA/NSA/military industrial complex how things work, which isn’t very natural. And the misgivings everyone feels are aired and I wonder how accurate that is.

And there’s the score, which is not subtle. (Is Oliver Stone ever subtle?) It rarely stops and it is regularly heavy-handed to the point where it’s almost offensive. Stone wants you to know Snowden is a patriot and a hero and he doesn’t trust his actors and his (poor) script to do the job – no the score has to hammer it home.

Still, there are moments of genuine tension – though they might have been tenser in a film made by someone who isn’t trying to only score political points – and there are moments I couldn’t help but feel for Snowden and those who helped him.

But you know what’s a tense movie that celebrates this whistleblower? Citizenfour. And it already existed.


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