Snowden, rated R
This film is directed by three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone and is his twentieth feature film. It depicts events that took place between 2004 and 2013 in the life of whistleblower Edward Snowden, played by one of our better young actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film is written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald and is based on the books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena.
Earlier this summer in the same theater before a packed house that came to see Captain America: Civil War, jovial cries of “Team Captain” and “Team Iron Man” broke out. Before this film, I asked the only other person in the theater at the time what he thought – was Snowden a patriot or a traitor? He identified himself as a Libertarian and immediately and enthusiastically responded that Snowden was definitely a patriot. And that’s exactly the way Stone portrays Snowden in this film. If that is not your view of Snowden you might want to pass on this film.
It mixes dramatization with some historical footage and opens in a Hong Kong hotel with Snowden meeting Laura Poitras, (played by Oscar winner Melissa Leo), director of what would become the Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour, and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, (played by Zachary Quinto – Spock in the latest Star Trek films). Snowden proceeds to share classified information about how the United States government is conducting illegal surveillance activities on their own citizens based on his knowledge of this from his time working in top-secret jobs in the United States government. This information is then published by the Guardian.
Among other things we find out that the government has the capability to turn on your laptop computer camera without you knowing it. Where I work, a number of people have for some time now placed a piece of tape over the camera because of just this fear.
In addition to Leo and Quinto, the film also features a number of other well-known actors such as Oscar winner Nicholas Cage, in his best performance role I’ve seen him in for some time, and the always good Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson. The real Edward Snowden, still living in Moscow, also appears near the end of the film.
Though the film is clear about its intentions of seeing Snowden as a patriot, it should lead to some good conversations after seeing the film. For example, we ran into some friends afterwards who felt that the truth was probably somewhere in the middle between patriot and traitor.
Gordon-Levitt, who was solid but not spectacular in his role as Snowden, makes us feel that something is wrong with what he is seeing, especially as the real President Obama is shown campaigning against exactly what Snowden now knows is going on under his leadership. But the question about Snowden comes down to the decision he made to share the confidential National Security Agency documents publicly. Should he have first attempted to go through legitimate channels to enact change? The film portrays his good intentions in being concerned about what he sees going on, and ultimately in exposing it, but it doesn’t address the harm (real or potential) he did to national security or government personnel working undercover. I see that as a weakness in the film.
The film was also slow, and even boring at times, too long at 134 minutes. Snowden’s relationship with live-in girlfriend Lindsay Mills, played by Shailene Woodley (from the Divergent films), which comprised big chunks of the film, added nothing to the overall Snowden story that people care about, and is another weakness of the film. The film does show one sex scene between the two. Mills, was a photographer and she was also the subject of many photographs shown in the film, including one of her nude. The film also included some adult language, a scene of Woodley teaching a pole-dancing class and a scene (no nudity) in a strip club. So Christian men, be prepared to divert your eyes into your popcorn box for a few scenes. The film is appropriately rated “R”.
Note: let me know if Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s fake voice drove you crazy too.