Snowden Review


For millions of people around the world, Edward Snowden is considered to be a hero. His actions as a whistleblower and his escape from U.S. capture has the makings of taut political techno-thriller. So it’s not surprising that 3 short years after Edward Snowden revealed to the world the U.S. government’s unconstitutional acts that a studio made a film about his life. But is Oliver Stone’s Snowden a worthy companion film to Laura Poitras’ captivating documentary CITIZENFOUR or is Snowden a fluff piece to further deify Edward Snowden?

It’s a little bit of both. While Snowden paints a truthful picture of Edward Snowden’s life, its straightforward, pedestrian, and preachy storytelling prevents the film from reaching the same heights as Oliver Stone’s previous classic biopics.

Snowden follows the real-life story of Edward Snowden during a nine-year span. From his recruitment into the CIA to the leaking of top-secret NSA documents, the film closely follows the trials and tribulations of the world’s most wanted man.


Oliver Stone’s films have been known to be a bit controversial albeit through a wide variety of genres. With Snowden, he implements a more realistic approach in the same vein as The Social Network. However, Snowden isn’t as linear as The Social Network was and is more of a visually expressionistic one. Stone crafted the film to be two completely different things: A journalistically detailed biopic and a preachy illustration of Snowden’s life. It’s these two alternating concepts that give the film a disjointed feel.

Yet as interesting as it is to see how the Snowden events unfolded, the topic on hand is still fairly new. Sure, there are wrinkles and honest interpretations into what really transpired – as opposed to what the media led us to believe – but the film lacks any sense of urgency or tension despite the high stakes involved.

In addition, while you expect Snowden to be a politically charged techno-thriller or a cloak and dagger film, it’s not any of those things. In the end, Oliver Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald’s screenplay becomes less a film about the NSA leaks than about the physical and mental costs of heroism — and whether or not they’re worth it.


That being said, at the end of the day this is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s film and he gives it his absolute all. Not only does he nail the Edward Snowden’s physical and vocal attributes with flawless technical skill, but he also portrays him in a constant state of moral anguish. Like I said, the film isn’t just about blowing the lid off the U.S. government’s secrets, but about the dangerous secrets that Snowden is forced to keep from everyone and the mental and physical toll it takes on him. As the film progresses, Gordon-Levitt clearly conveys the gradual disillusionment of his need to faithfully serve his country.

There are a lot of good actors in this film, but aside from Joseph Gordon-Levitt none of them really shine as brightly as him. Snowden primarily focuses on the one-note relationship with his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, and as talented as Shailene Woodley is, the role feels a bit like the stereotypical girlfriend who has a love/hate relationship with her boyfriend. We never get a sense of Lindsay’s point-of-view into Snowden’s top-secret government job, and we never see her develop into a full-blooded character. Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Scott Eastwood, Zachary Quinto, and Nicolas Cage have so little to do in the film that you might consider their appearances to be nothing but cameos. In this large cast, Rhys Ifans is the only other noteworthy performance with how well he played Snowden’s shady mentor, Corbin O’Brian.

Overall, Snowden wanted so much to be the next Social Network but Stone’s film doesn’t even come close to the level of Fincher’s film. It just doesn’t have the fire and flamboyance of Stone’s earlier films. Yet that doesn’t make the film a total failure either… It’s simply a middle-of-the-road film. If you want a more tension-filled look into Edward Snowden then look no further than Laura Poitras’ CITIZENFOUR. After all, Laura Poitras is depicted in the film.

Rating: 3/5 atoms
NR 3 Atoms - C

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