Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA/Germany/France 2016
Directed by
Oliver Stone
134 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Synopsis: The true story of one-time CIA employee Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who in 2013 leaked evidence to the press about the global internet surveillance activities of America’s intelligence agencies.

Oliver Stone is well-known as a left-leaning director unafraid to wear his political heart on his sleeve. His biopic of Edward Snowden, a young computer whizz who became increasingly concerned about the Big Brother potentiality of the work he was doing for the CIA and the National Security Agency, is well within that ambit.  It is a story well-worth telling and although there are traces of Stone’s characteristic tendentiousness, for the most part the director tells it straight.

Opening with Snowden in a hotel in Hong Kong meeting with documentary film-maker, Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), and British journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) in order to blow the whistle, the film flashes back and forth from this setting to key episodes charting the young man’s trajectory from patriotic idealist to wised-up outcast.  Unlike the recent Eye In The Sky which dealt with related matters of technology and morality, although the script, credited to Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald, blocks in some thriller-type devices Snowden doesn’t have much in the way of tension to it. Indeed, what suggestions of it there are come across more as Snowden's paranoia.  There’s also an ongoing but rather surface-level account of Snowden’s relationship with his girlfriend (Shailene Woodley) but for the most part Stone gives us a straight-down-the-barrel account of his journey to the epicentre of the NSA and CIA’s surveillance activities. Conspiracy theorists will be disappointed however - Snowden is about people just doing their job (an idea given telling embellishment late in the film).

A couple of concessions to more conventional entertainment values come in the form of a brilliant against-type performance from Rhys Ifans as Snowden’s CIA mentor and a small role for Nicolas Cage as a former coder relegated for asking too many questions to curating the CIA’a hardware museum (this is where Stone manages to scrawl his message about the military-industrial complex).  Gordon-Levitt gives an excellent performance although by very virtue of Snowden being such a serious young insect the result is fairly, well, flat. If anything, given that we see and hear the real Snowden at the film’s end, the actor underplays him (and I’m unclear why Gordon-Levitt chooses to speak in such a noticeably odd voice as Snowden’s voice appears to be quite unremarkable).

One of the truisms of a democratic society is that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance”. On that basis alone Snowden is well-worth the price of a ticket.

FYI: Snowden’s story has already been told in Laura Poitras’ 2014 documentary, Citizenfour, of which Stone's film is essentially a  dramatization. .If you are interested in the topic, Alex Gibney's 2016 documentary Zero Days will be a must-see.




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst