Frances Winston felt that there were moments of brilliance and moments of tedium in Snowden, but felt that it was worth a look to find out what our governments are up to
Directed by: Oliver Stone – Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Scott Eastwood, Logan Marshall-Green, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Schnetzer, LaKeith Lee Stanfield, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage
Edward Snowden is either a hero or the antichrist, depending on who you listen to.
Very few people have ever polarised opinion as much as he does. In case you have been living under a rock, Snowden is the former CIA operative, and U.S. government contractor, who leaked confidential documents that showed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was authorised to spy on every single person on the planet, using modern technology to tap into their lives. That’s it in a nutshell, but obviously it’s far more complex than that, which is why it merits a feature film.
Stone is usually drawn to controversial subject matter, and this is no exception. Snowden, played here by Gordon-Levitt, remains in exile in Russia, and his revelations continue to have a ripple effect worldwide – however, somehow Stone manages to lose much of the impact of this.
Opening with Snowden about to tell his story to three journalists, we are then told the rest of the tale in flashback. Woodley plays his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, and much of the story focuses on their relationship. There is also a huge amount of ‘tech speak’, as you would expect from a film like this. While Stone no doubt felt this was necessary, it really slows down the film. The best and most tense moments are with Snowden and the journalists. However, Stone seems to feel that the audience must have a thorough academic understanding of the science behind the monitoring, and at times this becomes tedious.
Gordon-Levitt is excellent as Snowden. You really get a sense of his struggle. However, Woodley seems somewhat miscast as Lindsay. She spends much of the movie simply complaining that he can’t tell her about his work. However, since the real couple are still together, there is clearly more to their relationship than this, but that is never really indicated here.
The huge ensemble cast all do a great job – Wilkinson in particular is brilliant – but there are so many peripheral characters, and so much hopping back and forth between various points in time, that it can be difficult to keep track of who’s who.
Given that the protagonist is so complex, any filmmaker would have struggled with how to tell his story, but Stone isn’t usually known for playing it safe. Unfortunately, it feels like he is really holding back here, and trying to make it as balanced as possible, in order to appeal to both sides of the opinion spectrum. In doing so though, it feels like he has diluted the work somewhat. You don’t leave this movie with any new insight on Snowden, and whatever your opinion of him, this is unlikely to make you question it, or even to reinforce it.
It’s an interesting film, and a fascinating insight into just what sort of clandestine operations our governments are implementing behind our backs. It’s just very – well – boring in parts. And these parts unfortunately take you out of the more brilliant moments, such as the tension as the reporters wait to see if they can get clearance to run this explosive story.
Much like Snowden himself, this is a total contradiction. It manages to have equal moments of brilliance and of tedium.
However, it is worth a look, if only to get a better insight into one of the most bizarre stories the media has covered in recent years.
In Cinemas Now! See Trailer Below: