Review - 'Snowden'
Edward Snowden is a pretty controversial figure here in the U.S., so it's only natural that he gets a movie deal. Oliver Stone, who's always been known for his in-your-face directorial style dials it down a few notches for his depiction of Snowden, which if I'm being honest, keeps the film from being anything more than serviceable.
Snowden documents the lead-up to the infamous leak in 2013 by Edward Snowden. It dabbles in a bit of his past and shows how he got his foot in the door working with the NSA. The film also depicts how he figured out about what the government was doing and how he came to the conclusion that he needed to make it public.
If you are of the mind that what Snowden did was wrong, then you're not going to like this film. Edward Snowden is portrayed as a hero for the people and the narrative is very rarely antagonistic towards Snowden's actions. Now, while I think what Snowden did was a huge risk because it jeopardized relations with other countries, I sympathize with his message and agree that the government should be more transparent and pure in their intentions. I'm just giving you all a framing for how I went into the movie, because I think your enjoyment of this film will slightly hinge on your mindset towards Edward Snowden in real life. So, for me, depicting Snowden as a hero figure didn't bother me and I was able to ingest the film pretty easily without any scoffs of disagreement.
Another thing I should be forthright about is my knowledge of everything Snowden has done. I'm not well-versed on his actions and pretty much only know what was told to me by various news outlets. Oliver Stone warned me about bent truths right from the beginning though; instead of seeing that obnoxious "Based on a True Story" text that usually pops up before these types of films we get a "dramatization of true events that happened between 2004 and 2013" or something along those lines. I appreciated that the director knew the audience would be smart enough to tell what might be true and what might be, let's say, embellished, and that he also let people who were less aware of the story in on the fact that aspects of it might be tweaked for dramatic effect. After reading that I was expecting another out-there film from Stone, but what I got was a surprisingly restrained, and *gasp* sometimes boring flick.
This film could have been a real nail-biting thriller and it would not even have needed to stray from accuracy too much, but no, we now live in a time where a Facebook movie is more riveting and tense than a film about a man that went against the system, smuggled out highly sensitive data and released it to news outlets for the world's consumption. The movie is very leisurely paced and while it tries to build forward momentum at points, it never hits any noticeable climaxes. This got me thinking that in David Fincher's hands and with another excellent Trent Reznor score, this really could have been something. With that said, this film is perfectly serviceable, it just very rarely, if ever, breaks from the mold.
If there is one thing worth seeing in this film, it's Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Snowden himself. He puts on a bit of an accent that seemed a tad questionable in the trailers, but it came across as natural to the character when you first hear him speak. Gordon-Levitt pulls off the slightly anti-social and awkward nature of Edward Snowden really well and it doesn't hurt that they actually look similar in some ways. The rest of the actors are hit-or-miss. I wasn't amazed by Shailene Woodley's performance as Lindsay Mills here, and thus I didn't find her relationship with Gordon-Levitt particularly convincing. They have some awkward banter towards the beginning that was an attempt at portraying chemistry, but it really fell flat in my opinion. If there's one character that's fallen victim to Stone's supposed "dramatization" though, it's Corbin O'Brian, played by Rhys Ifans. I'm actually pretty sure this character isn't real, and if he is, he's probably offended as he's basically given the mustache-twirling villain treatmant. That's not to say Ifans is bad, he's actually one of the more enjoyable characters in this film and his interactions with Gordon-Levitt are compelling.
From a filming stand-point; Snowden is shot well and is spared from Oliver Stone's typical spastic editing. This is a blessing and a curse because I feel like Stone thrives on spastic personalities, camera angles and edits. What we get here is an in-focus film with some interesting shots sprinkled here and there, but there aren't any scenes I would call "postcard-worthy". The score is also decent, but I felt it was lacking in personality.
All-in-all I think this film is functional, but it's also forgettable apart from Joseph Gordon-Levitt's calculated performance. I like Oliver Stone, but I feel that he could have done better here. I still think the film is worth a look once it hits VOD as it gives an interesting peak into how Snowden might have been living his life at the time but there's really nothing about it that warrants a visit to the theater.