I talked quite a bit in my review for Sully about the dangers of hero worship. As opposed to that film, there is an actual debate on whether or not whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero, as many people in the United States see him as a traitor. Oliver Stone with his latest film Snowden does see the title character as a hero, whilst adequately portraying an opposing side. He makes his argument and gives his reasons. That is not the issue with this film. The issues come from the plodding storytelling, the clunky message making, and managing to turn one of the most important American stories of the modern era into a tensionless slog.
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Oliver Stone made movies with verve. Whether or not you agreed with what he was saying, it was difficult to deny he made movies that moved well. Snowden is about as standard a formula as you can get. We have the framing device of Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) revealing his information to journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), as well as documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), which sounds familiar to you if you saw Poitras’ documentary Citizenfour (an infinitely better film than this one). From there we are able to flashback to various points in Snowden’s life, from his short time in the army to his joining the CIA to various missions, all while commencing in a relationship with magical liberal Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), who manages to transform Snowden from an Ayn Randian conservative to a much more liberal-minded person. It’s so stodgy in its structure that it’s difficult to remember this is the guy who directed Natural Born Killers.
The main issue with the structure is we all know Snowden’s claim to fame revolves around the leaking of this stolen NSA information. When twenty minutes in we see Snowden questioning surveillance tactics used by the United States, we set a countdown clock for when he will steal the information, and it doesn’t happen for another ninety minutes. Every minute that passes drains the drama out a tiny bit more. Had the leak happened, say, halfway through the movie and the second half was the fallout from that, perhaps there would have been some character drama to milk here. Instead, we get scene after scene after scene of Snowden seeing the US do something shady. Instead of being shocked at their tactics, we are bored because it is the exact same concept as the last scene we saw.
Gordon-Levitt does an admirable job playing Edward Snowden. You manage to forget after a couple of minutes he is putting on a voice. The impressive cast, which not only has the names I mentioned earlier but also Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Timothy Olyphant, and Lakeith Lee Stanfield, are given next to nothing to play. Shailene Woodley gets the worst of it, though. She is there for two purposes: 1) espouse ideology and 2) be condescended to by Snowden. I know Woodley is a strong, active progressive herself, so maybe she thought this was an important story to tell and was willing to take whatever part she could. However, she deserves better parts than this.
Many Christian conservatives often condemn many critics for negative opinions on the ever-increasing number of Christian films that get released because they have liberal politics. Actually, it’s just because they are poorly made movies. Snowden is a movie I politically agree with, but I can still call it out for not being good. In a world where the vibrant and immediate Citizenfour exists, Oliver Stone’s Snowden is a footnote at best. When the story is about one guy stealing government information and releasing it to the world, we should feel the stakes of that decision. Theoretically, it should totally alter our perception of how we live daily life. Snowden tells that story with nothing but a thud.
Categories: New Releases