Snowden: Movie Man Jackson

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

B-

Photo credits go to themillimetre.com, theguardian.com, and moviefone.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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Any Given Sunday: Movie Man Jackson

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On Any Given Sunday, a hero can fall, and a hero can rise. The Miami Sharks, once one of the best franchises in their football league, have fallen on hard times. They aren’t a profitable franchise anymore, and owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) is contemplating moving the team. They’ve lost four straight, and Coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) has just lost his 38 year old quarterback Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid) to a debilitating injury.

In relief of Cap comes Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), a talented-yet-inexperienced young quarterback. Beamen begins to lead the team to success, but also clashes with D’Amato and his no-nonsense approach. If that weren’t enough, owner Pagniacci may have had enough of the coach’s refusal to adapt to the new age. There’s an unforgiving game played on the gridiron, but the game played outside of it can be just as unforgiving, if not more so.

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When it comes to football movies, there are generally a few classics that are at the top or near the top of every list. Rudy, Friday Night Lights, Remember the Titans, The Longest Yard. One that doesn’t get mentioned as often but in the opinion of yours truly is just as fulfilling, if not more than those aforementioned movies, is the Oliver Stone-directed Any Given Sunday. It’s a movie I loved when I was young, and one I believe gets better and better with age.

Stylistically, like many of Stone’s movies, Any Given Sunday can be very hyperactive, full of cuts, splices, and the like. It is annoying in some movies, but in AGS, the style works wonderfully, in particular, the football scenes. They are so frenetic and fast paced to show that American football, in spite of all of its downtime between plays, is a manic couple of seconds when those plays are going on. Specifically, Stone captures what playing quarterback would be like stepping into a pressure cooker for the first time at the highest level of football. For my money, the opening scene when Foxx’s Beamen arrives to the line of scrimmage for the first time set to Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now is one of my favorites opening scenes of cinema ever, regardless of genre.

Stone doesn’t only focus on the football, though. Any Given Sunday is just as interested in the stuff that occurs outside of the hashmarks as it is inside of them. The business side of football, the locker room side of football, and the personal side of football are all analyzed. In many ways, the issues and ideological clashes Stone brings attention to such as team doctor ethics, old-school pocket quarterbacking v.s. dual-threat quarterbacking, and whether players are nothing more than new slaves for ownership foreshadowed many hot-topic conversations that exist today in football.

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These stories are very compelling. But still, a major issue of the film is its runtime. Not so much due to bloating or information overload, but the random scenes Stone throws in here and there that just feel overindulgent. Spending roughly one full minute seeing players snort cocaine off of escorts, seeing a player lose an eye, and witnessing an offensive lineman having to go to the bathroom urgently make little sense as to why they had to be included.

Everyone does their jobs cast-wise with what their roles ask of them. Coach D’Amato is one of Pacino’s best recent performances, which says a lot about his recent roles when one considers this was released in 1999. Despite the odd wardrobe for a coach, Pacino feels like a guy who has been around the game for a while, seen a lot of things, and is unsure about his place in the game as it becomes more modernized. Of course, his inches monologue is legendary and galvanizing. I’d say, however, that he is equaled or even upstaged by Jamie Foxx, taking on his first real dramatic role as “Steamin” Willie Beamen. Looking the part of the respective athletic position is important for any football movie, and it is easy to see Foxx’s natural athletic ability. But he’s so good next to Pacino, as a good amount of the film is the two characters coming at each other from different viewpoints. Beamen has layers; dynamic yet traditional, arrogant yet rightfully convicted in his skills. Willie Beamen is one of my personal favorite characters in any film, period.

Notable actors include Dennis Quaid as the grizzled quarterback who knows about leading a locker room, LL Cool J as a selfish running back only looking after himself (his character’s clashes with Beamen feel all the more real as Foxx/LL had real issues with one another), James Woods as a questionable-at-best team doctor, Aaron Eckhart as an up-and-coming coordinator, and Cameron Diaz who really impresses as a female owner/general manager who is very much hands-on. Non-actors such as Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown, while not exactly being stretched and for good reason, add to the proceedings and actually give the production an air of legitimacy.

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Any Given Sunday still serves as the truest movie representation of pro football and all of its issues that aren’t confined to the field. It might not be at the consensus very top of the draft board for football movies, but it hits just as hard in the entertainment department, if not harder than, those oft-mentioned movies at the top.

A-

Photo credits go to footballsfuture.com, esquire.com, and bluray.highdefdigest.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson