It’s a funny thing about Snowden–it’s a competent thriller with, of course, political overtones (Oliver Stone made it, after all) and I have no beef with it, but a day after seeing it it doesn’t stick with me. I can still remember shots from Nixon and Natural Born Killers and even W., but Snowden may be the most conventional film Stone has ever made.
There has already been a film about Edward Snowden, and that was the Oscar-winning Citizenfour, which had three journalists and Snowden in a hotel room in Hong Kong as he gave them information and they published it. Some of those scenes are re-enacted, which is strange given we’ve seen the real thing. So Stone has expanded the story, telling us about Snowden’s earlier days, when he was a gung-ho Bush supporter, how he grew disenchanted with the methods of government intelligence, and how he was influenced by his girlfriend.
This is all well and good. Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes an excellent Snowden, down to the almost perpetual fringe of beard on his chin and the at times infuriating earnestness, and I am once again impressed by Shailene Woodley, who takes the part of “the girlfriend” and makes it something much more. Having seen Woodley take part at the Dakota Access protests recently crossed into my thinking, and it helped me buy her as a liberal.
But something is missing. We get a little of it–the most memorable scene is when Gordon-Levitt is called into a video conference with his mentor, Rhys Ifans, whose image is projected on a wall, about twelve feet tall, looming like a Big Brother. I think the entire film is summed up in that scene, as what Snowden revealed, that the U.S. government was listening and reading private conversations, emails, and texts, is the very definition of Big Brother.
I was also interested in some of the nuts and bolts of working for the CIA and NSA. There’s a mountain in Hawaii where you really get x-rayed before you come in, and spies these days are computer jockeys, likely to wear cargo pants and bowling shirts instead of black trench coats.
Stone clearly admires Snowden, who gets a cameo at the end. While others called for harsh punishment (Trump called for his execution, Clinton demanded his arrest, and Obama was not a fan) it’s interesting to see how time changes things–it’s possible that Obama may pardon him. The film comes then, at an interesting time then, but it doesn’t really make a statement. Oh, you may want to put a Band-Aid over your Web-cam, and don’t email or text anything that you don’t want Uncle Sam to read, but we knew that already, didn’t we?