In SNOWDEN Director Oliver Stone returns with pop culture intrigue
reviewed by Reviewer Rob
In Oliver Stone’s movie SNOWDEN it’s implied his lead character had co-conspirators in the NSA. This is unfair to the viewer because although the screenplay was a work of fiction the real Snowden was emphatic that he alone should have the target on his back. Also this movie’s timing was promoted as being supportive of an eleventh hour end-of-term pardon by President Obama for the whistle-blower currently in exile in Moscow. So maybe sticking to the known facts would have been a better course of action, especially because there are plenty of exciting details to fill out a script. SNOWDEN just glossed over the tense escape from Hong Kong. Something should have been included about how Wikileaks activist Julian Assange organized behind the scenes from afar Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong via a matrix of feints, and although Assange was integral to the story he makes no appearance at all in this movie. Nor does Private Bradley Manning, who started the ball rolling in 2010 when he leaked 39 minutes of U.S. Army video showing the 2007 killing of Reuters reporters by helicopter gunfire in Iraq. Without these warm-up chapters the series of stories Snowden leaked to The Gaurdian and The Washington Post wouldn’t have been given such a receptive audience.
Oliver Stone does make a good attempt at dramatizing the moral crisis Snowden undergoes as he changes from idealistic new recruit to disenchanted analyst amid the systemic acceptance of policy corruption and mission creep. Cognitive dissonance turns to personal outrage when he realizes that a hardball form of office politics is being used to silence him when a superior blithely ruins lives of unknowing surveillance targets in order to gain a promotion for himself.
This feeling continues to build up until the end of the movie when the real Edward J. Snowden makes a cameo appearance and somewhat unconvincingly describes to a lecture audience via web-link from Russia that he feels good about what he did. As he says this he appears pained and avoids eye contact with the camera.
Lindsey Mills is fleshed out well here by Shailene Woodley. But her fictionalized departure from Hawaii when Snowden’s on the lam is anticlimactic. In the documentary CITIZENFOUR there’s a scene where Edward is reading an email from her while he’s still in Hong Kong, and after the stories come out in The Gaurdian. The NSA is calling because he told them he’s at home sick. He tells the interviewer that Lindsey said the rent check wasn’t received, which he finds interesting since he had it on an auto-issue system, and his landlord is to begin the eviction process. There’s also “construction trucks” all over his block for some reason, he says.
“I wonder what they’re looking for,” he asks rhetorically, with a wry smile.
Edward Snowden was far more entertaining to watch in person in CITIZENFOUR, especially when you consider he’s being filmed in real time as the act is in play and he’s betraying NSA secrets, possibly incurring a penalty of decades in prison or a death sentence. He’s often reflective and even takes a moment to laugh and offer a “pro-tip” to filmmaker Laura Poitras and the reporters, telling them it’s not a good idea to leave a memory card in their laptop.
This pithy sarcasm and sharp wit reappears quite often with the actual Snowden (seen in a VICE interview and other online appearances) but is wholly absent in the dull two-dimensional character portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. His version of Snowden looks like a confused boy scout instead of a computer savant on a mission.
In CITIZENFOUR the clandestine nature of his communication with the director Poitras (Melissa Leo in SNOWDEN) is fascinatingly seen with onscreen text and through voice-over. But in SNOWDEN this basic element of spycraft is only vaguely touched upon during their initial meeting. At least included was his red cloak “magic mantle of power”.
Edward Snowden missed the big Hollywood premier of this movie. As of this writing there isn’t a lot of public support in the media to let him come back to his home country unfettered by handcuffs. Snowden was subsequently hung out to dry by The Washington Post, who said he should be prosecuted rather than defending their source whose information they deemed newsworthy and won them a Pulitzer Prize.
Entertaining as this movie is there will be many auto-patriots who believe Snowden’s status as a sainted whistle-blower is undeserved, and that if you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to hide. ‘So why do you care if your private conversations through Verizon or AT&T and all your emails are being collected and evaluated?’ You are so fucking naive and stupid if you think that. So fucking stupid. Does anyone really think that the whole real estate bubble which began in 2003, shortly after the surveillance state began in full after 9-11, was just a mere coincidence. Is it merely a coincidence that the spy state and the great post-9-11 wealth transfer to the top one-percent just happened at the same time, all by happenstance?
Anyways, SNOWDEN is a good film, I’d say a solid four out of five, and clearly shows Oliver Stone is still in the game. Nicholas Cage comes back and even plays a small role as a disillusioned C.I.A. instructor and is the designated “big name” actor in this one as John Travolta was in SAVAGES. It’s not matching the comprehensiveness of the constellation Stone included in JFK but it does show he has consistency.
This movie could have used a soundtrack too. It’s been 22 years since Oliver Stone’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS and although in a different genre its music made it great. SNOWDEN would have been firmly set in its era if some current tunes where used as backdrop. At least they could have included the old church hymn, “When The Saints Go Marching In”. It was featured in the online preview trailer but wasn’t in the movie I saw. It would have been appropriate, considering Edward Snowden has martyred himself and is now the target of a persecution some in government would like to be no less strenuous than what was suffered by the victims of Nero in FOX’S BOOK OF MARTYRS.