Is freedom worth it if it’s obtained at any cost? American Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants so much to protect and serve the country he loves. A medical discharge forces him from the Army, but his brilliant intellect lands him in the CIA, where his love for computers and technology can be harnessed.
He’s put on the fast track to advancement right away. In the process, he meets the beautiful Lindsey (Shailine Woodley), who eventually becomes his girlfriend. While being exposed to many key players and bold new technologies, Snowden begins to see that who he works may not have the same idea of how to go about preserving freedom. He’s compelled to say something about how the government abuses the privacy of everyone, but the secrecy of his job makes this impossible to do so, even to Lindsey. If he goes public, some may see him as a traitor. Others may see him as a hero.
Saturation is very much a real thing. When you see an idea, a person, a whatever so much and so often, any intended effect that subject would normally have is somewhat dulled. I think that is the real issue with Snowden, director Oliver Stone’s take on one of the most fascinating men and events of the 21st century. Much like Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, which came fairly quickly after a 2013 biopic of the Apple founder, Snowden comes fairly quickly after Laura Poitrus’ documentary Citizenfour, and only three years after the real life leaks that Snowden did.
Some takes have painted Stone’s latest take to be awfully safe, as the director has made a name for taking on some of the most controversial and intriguing events/people and making them into a film. Snowden is safe in the sense that anyone looking for a screenplay to show both sides and viewpoints in the same light will not find that here, as there is a crystal delineation between the good guy(s) and the bad guys. However, Snowden isn’t a boring film to look at, Stone’s always had a unique flair and style. The film isn’t as notable as some of his others in a cinematography aspect, but biopics certainly have looked more mundane than this.
I’ve never actually seen Citizenfour. But over the last few years since Snowden did what he did, his actions have clearly been used as allusions and/or flat out referenced directly in many television shows and movies. Hell, Jason Bourne has a whole sidestory about shady government surveillance (We’ve just been hacked…Could be worse than Snowden“). All of this is to say that Oliver Stone’s Snowden, even with a not-always-smooth-way-of-storytelling, is functional enough in its screenplay to get by. However, the emotional impact does lack somewhat, and the build to the big moment is a little more anticlimactic than anticipated. In turn, this makes Snowden drag during specific times in its runtime.
Though he is supported by a talented cast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries the Snowden movie as the titular title character. Concerns about his voice are extremely overblown; he is spot on with the vocal inflections. He does sell the conflict of being a layered person, being about his country but not blindingly so. It helps that he shares a sound physical resemble. The end with an appearance by the real Edward only solidifies the JGL casting.
Good chemistry is had with Shailine Woodley in what has to probably be her most mature role if since The Spectacular Now. The fighting the two have becomes a little rote, but their romance is believable and dare I say even cute. They are opposites but share a real connection. You want them to work out. The rest are bit characters but all carry importance in lifting the veil. Nicolas Cage is very subdued as what Edward could become, dropping hints that the government isn’t exactly what Snowden imagines; one wonders why he can’t always be like this in productions. It’s clear what role Rhys Ifans is going to be playing, no surprises and he plays it well. Tom Wilkinson, Melissa Leo, and Zachary Quinto have little to ultimately do, but they’re pros pros and don’t draw any more attention to themselves than needed.
Snowden ends with the common “where are they now/what happened” slides and text at the end of most biographies, and it is a little weird only because most know about this. While I do think that Snowden is getting somewhat of a worse rap than deserved, and the acting absolutely raises the film overall, I do wonder whether it would have been best to hold off on this project if only because it is still ongoing and a true ending hasn’t been reached yet. Perhaps then, the full gravitas of Snowden and his actions would have been realized.
Photo credits go to themillimetre.com, theguardian.com, and moviefone.com.
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Nice work man. I did really enjoy JGL here. That guy can do pretty much anything he sets his mind to. And he and Shailene Woodley share plenty of chemsitry.
As always, thanks Tom. Read your take and I largely agree, I think I just believe the film is carried to better heights due to JGL. He truly is awesome here. But the film is a little of a drag, and with little emotional impact.
I think part of that is due to the recency of the whole event and how much we constantly hear about nonstop surveillance. Would love to see how this movie would work in say 10 years.
Citizenfour is well worth your time mate. Did we need this? Well, maybe so. Snowden is such a fascinating character; his motivations intrigue me and I hope this gives those a good airing.
I gotta get on Citizenfour, I know. I don’t dispute that we didn’t need this, I just dispute if we need this now. Thanks for reading, Mark.
Nice post. You got more out of this that I did that’s for sure!!
I’m with you on the voice – JGL sounds uncannily like Snowden himself!! Gotta say though, that ending with the real Snowden was really gimmicky IMO. I agree JGL and the girl had decent chemistry, but I felt so much more could have been milked from their opposing political viewpoints. When they first meet they have a couple of really great back and forth conversations, Then she kinda just turns into the bored housewife cliché
But hey, that’s just me!
Oh, and dude, I reeeeeally recommend you see Citizenfour. It is more engaging, tense, and it is real. The tension is -real- cos its a doco.
While I agree that Stone has some decent cinematographic flourishes throughout, that was all I liked about this. That and JGL. I’m still amazed that such a stale movie could have been made about a person like Snowden.
I know I know. I have to get on Citizenfour. I made a point in my thoughts to mention that this isn’t really objective, would have loved to see that
I think this is raised by its acting.
Yeah JGL was awesome, and sounded like Snowden too. But yeah Citizenfour just has so much more urgency about it, I’d highly recommend it if this story interests you
Terrific review, buddy. I don’#t think JGL can do any wrong, really! Good to see Shailene Woodley maturing in her acting career.
Yes! Aside from The Spectacular Now, she really hasn’t had much to do in her career. Perhaps that changes now starting here?
You could be right, I think it’s opening her up to the next step in her career.