By: Jamie Steinberg
Oliver Stone is known for his controversial films and Snowden does not deviate from his tried and true formula. Here we have the story of one of the most contentious subjects in recent American history. The name Edward Snowden has become synonymous as a government employee that stole and released top secret files from a facility in Hawaii. Stone explores these events in American politics along while traversing Snowden’s reasoning for sharing such tightly held information.
At the beginning of the film we watch as Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is in Hong Kong meeting with journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) and also with documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo). We watch as he initiates his story, detailing the files he stole and why he took them. We then begin to flashback with Snowden to his time as an Army recruit attempting to make it as a Ranger. Unfortunately, Snowden has weak leg bones so he is unable to realize his goal and is eventually discharged. He then takes a job working for the CIA and begins working at a position in Europe not just as an analyst, but also for a bit as a field agent.
We also spend time within the film exploring Snowden’s relationship with girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). It was interesting to see how much time was spent on their romance as the majority of the matter at hand surrounds the secrets leaked; however, I’m sure Stone felt that the love story added some levity to the seriousness of the film (and maybe to even humanize Snowden a bit). Plus, it is interesting to see how much information Snowden actually shared with his paramour.
As we head back into the more severe section of the Snowden story, we watch as this mastermind rises within the ranks and gains greater access to classified information. With his gradual incline within the CIA, he was able to discover the US government had been spying more on their own residents than their enemies! While this may sound like just another plot twist in a movie, it turns out to actually be true.
The movie is filled to the brim with talented and well-known actors – all playing individuals that were key roles in the real Snowden saga. Rhys Ifans plays Snowden’s mentor Corbin O’Brian and Joey Richardson stars as Janine Gibson, the editor of The Guardian. Timothy Olyphant (known for his role in “Justified”) takes on the role of a CIA operative Geneva who was Snowden’s boss at the time.
Whatever your personal opinion is on Snowden, you have to agree he is a very controversial and interesting individual. Whether he be seen as a traitor or hero, the film is an entertaining look at all the drama surrounding these real life events and leaves no question as to how Stone sees Snowden.
Extras on the DVD include a deleted scenes that don’t add much to the message of the film. There is an interesting feature entitled “Finding The Truth” that features Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley and Oliver Stone as they discuss what drew them to the movie and how they came together to tell this true tale. The most intriguing of all the features is “Snowden: Q&A” because it is an actual discussion about the making of the movie with the real Edward Snowden, Oliver Stone, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley as moderated by Matt Zoller Seitz.
Final Grade: Three out of five stars. Well acted with an intriguing subject.