Running Time: 134 minutes
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Featuring: 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 and Nicolas Cage
Edward Snowden: “So, this is data collection for the month of March worldwide, emails and Skype calls. So France, 70 million. Germany, 500 million. Brazil, two billion. Inside the U.S., 3.1 billion emails and calls. That’s not including any of the telecom company data.”
NSA Dep. Director Lowell: “Okay, so what’s the collection in Russia?”
Edward Snowden: “Russia is 1.5 billion.”
NSA Dep. Director Lowell: “Wait, so we’re collecting twice as much in the U.S. as we are in Russia?”
Ed Snowden remains a hot topic in the US and rightly so, the most high profile whistle blower in history is sought by his government for charges under the Espionage Act – there is no politician around that will call him what he is – a patriot, who should be celebrated for putting his country first and successive governments second. Oliver Stones latest film is perhaps his best in years, for many reasons, this is deeply personal to him, it fits in with his politics and he seems to have been given free reign to tell a unique story about a unique man in a very unique situation.
The film begins in 2013, when Edward Snowden arranges a clandestine meet in Hong Kong with documentarian Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald. They discuss releasing the classified information in the former’s possession regarding illegal mass surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA).
With the help of journalist Ewen MacAskill, the information is disseminated to the press on June 5, 2013, with additional leaks published in the following days. In the aftermath, with the help of MacAskill, Greenwald and Poitras, Snowden is smuggled out of Hong Kong on a flight bound for Latin America by way of Russia. However, the U.S. Government revokes his passport, forcing him to remain in Moscow indefinitely.
Stone, wisely sticks his plot and narrative to a set period, that being the time Snowden was training in the military in 2005 to an interview he gave online in 2015. This is a very smart move as it shows Snowden’s love for his country and what he was willing to do to assist in the fight against terrorism in light of 9/11. It becomes apparent to him that he will need to help the fight in another way and joins the CIA – although not the done deal you would think. For a large part of the film Snowden is someone who drinks the Kool-Aid and believes in what he is being told but the longer he stays at the CIA the faster he becomes disillusioned with what his own government is doing to its people – it is a great dawning that Stone was born to show.
The film is anchored by the performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the central character who inhabits the role in every way he can, including a voice-inflected tone that is reminiscent of Snowden himself. Gordon-Levitt has shown over the past few years he is capable of appearing in blockbuster films and smaller more personal and lesser budgeted features, this film seems to be a perfect mix of a character drama as well as a grand ambitious piece that illustrates a steady resolve.
This is a fully realized film driven by Oliver Stone and it’s his best since “Any Given Sunday” (1999), which at the time topped of a decade of great films by the director. However, since that film his output has been steady, but a little patchy. My feeling is he was making movies he thought people wanted to see from him and he paid the price with very mediocre projects. “Snowden” is what Stone does best, take something very real and offer his own opinions, while producing a story for the ages, one that is still very popular and offers surprise after surprise. The subject of the film is still quite a popular figure unlike Julian Assange the only other person that compares who seems to be more interested in creating havoc and destroying the credibility of governments.
This is highly recommended viewing especially now around awards time when this is a film that reveals what governments can do and are doing. In this new political environment and with all the vitriol aimed at the Republicans and Trump it’s not a huge leap to think that this will continue and could be stepped up with new technology. I personally would have liked to see this film in contention at the Oscars, particularly in the place of “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016) as this is more in the moment than that film.
Released on DVD and Blu-ray 1st February 2017.