Snowden is Oliver Stone’s latest historically minded film, and it details the context of Edward Snowden’s career in national defense culminating in his decision to become a whistleblower on the NSA’s illegal surveillance activity by leaking classified material to The Guardian.
The film is largely nonpartisan, mostly because of the legitimate illegality of the government’s actions, and the reality that President Obama continued the practices of President Bush’s Administration — despite his campaign promises not to — makes the government’s spying a bipartisan scandal.
It is a spy film of sorts, but an unusual one largely unconcerned with the pacing or thrills of a typical spy flick. Computer espionage is much less cinematic than the James Bond or Jason Bourne standards, especially as the film’s nonlinear narrative understandably lingers in the small Hong Kong hotel room in which Snowden hides after escaping the US with his stolen government files.
If you aren’t interested in politics you probably won’t be interested in its length (138 minutes), but if you are interested in politics you’ll wish the movie had a little more depth into the illegality of the NSA’s actions.
The film is very well cast and subsequently very well acted. Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a conspicuously deep voice stars as Snowden, and his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, is played by Shailene Woodley. Zachary Quinto deserves more screen time than he gets as Glenn Greenwald, accompanied by Tom Wilkinson and Melissa Leo as journalist Ewen MacAskill and film director Laura Poitras, respectively. They are the media figures Snowden handpicks to go public with the information the US government doesn’t want anyone to know.
The script is strong save for a seemingly random inclusion of Nicolas Cage as a governmental mentor of sorts for Snowden, and an entirely unnecessary sex scene between Snowden and his girlfriend. I don’t think anyone who paid attention to the Snowden news stories saw him as a sex symbol, but puzzlingly we get a glimpse into his sex life. Stone must show us that the government could theoretically watch us hump, and not just say it — though Snowden does repeatedly. It seems to be the only objectionable aspect of the film that earns its R-rating, and its cutting could have done the film’s length a favor.
Contemptor grade: 7.5