Oliver Stone Introduces Us To “Snowden”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Just to remind you, Edward Snowden is the government data geek who in June 2013 leaked classified information to The Guardian about the NSA’s spying on US citizens.
In Oliver Stone’s hands, “Snowden” becomes a biographical political thriller. It is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.
Variety calls it “the most important and galvanizing political drama by an American filmmaker in years.”
For two hours and 14 minutes suspend your opinions -- pro or con -- about Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who took refuge in Russia. Stone’s point in telling Snowden’s story has less to do with the thirtysomething fugitive than about governmental surveillance in today’s society.
Oliver Stone has been called “the reigning king of conspiratorial left-wing political thrillers.”
In Stone’s new film, we get to know Edward Snowden (calmly played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a deep thinker who has worked for the CIA’s global communications division as well as being a cybersecurity consultant for various government contractors. Snowden didn’t start out as a radical crusader. In fact, in 2009 he posted on a blog saying that he believed leakers of classified information “should be shot in the balls.”
Early on, he was a quiet, unassuming patriot who joined the US Army Reserve following 9/11 but wasn’t physically up to the challenge. Being discharged after breaking his legs, he joined the CIA where he could carry on the good fight in the safety of cyberspace. He was sent to Switzerland under diplomatic cover to maintain the CIA’s computer network security there. He was handpicked to support the president at the 2008 NATO summit in Romania.
In 2009 he moved over to Dell Computers where he managed the CIA account. Later on, Snowden was assigned to Hawaii as lead technologist for the NSA’s information-sharing office. But when he started reading Top Secret documents about how the NSA was spying on American citizens, he was shocked. He says his breaking point was seeing NSA director James Clapper “directly lie under oath to Congress.”
The result: Snowden turned over up to 200,000 documents to journalist Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian. And provided a video interview with filmmaker Laura Poitras (the basis for her “Citizenfour” documentary) as he went on the run, first to Hong Kong, then to Russia.
This film is not as kaleidoscopic as some of Oliver Stone’s earlier works, although it does cut back and forth between the interview and events that led up to it -- while displaying some of Stone’s outraged passion by telling this story of a mild-mannered James Bourne.
In addition to a spot-on performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (he donated his salary to the American Civil Liberties Union) as Snowden, we get Shailene Woodley as the girlfriend he met on a dating site called Geek-Mate … Zachary Quinto as intrepid journalist Glenn Greenwald … Melissa Leo as documentarian Laura Poitras … Tom Wilkinson as journalist Ewen MacAskill … Nicolas Cage as a CIA bigwig who befriends Snowden … and Timothy Olyphant, Rhys Infans, Parker Sawyers, Ben Chaplin, Scott Eastwood, and Joely Richardson in supporting roles. Plus an appearance by Edward Snowden himself.
The film’s message: The intelligence community, we learn, has the ability to enter any home through its computer or phone -- using either the webcam, or the screen itself. Scary stuff.
As for Snowden, he has stated, “I am neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American.”