Snowden movie full length review - Snowden is far From Impartial but Its a Riveting Story With Stellar Performances
Edward Snowden was a person who made the world stand still and take notice when he came forward with what he smuggled out of covert U.S. government facilities.
I'm not intimately familiar with Edward Snowden or his case. I feel bad about it, I should have paid closer attention but unfortunately I didn't. I'm familiar with some of Oliver Stone's previous movies, some I liked and some I didn't so I walked in without bias. I honestly don't want to talk politics (even though the movie is obviously pro-Snowden there's a lot of Obama bashing so there's something for everyone?) but I can say that this movie is informative for the uninitiated, there's some exceptional acting and even though it can get heavy-handed, it helps you understand why Snowden acted the way he did.
*Minor Spoilers Ahead* A filmmaker named Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and a reporter from the Guardian Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) wait for Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in a busy Hong Kong mall. They're nervous because he's late but he eventually shows. They head to his motel and place their phones in the microwave (for reasons I didn't catch it blocks their ability to be tracked). They're there to interview Edward who is about to leak the data that he was able to steal from the U.S. government. It focuses on the monitoring of their own citizens, how easily the can obtain this information without proper legal channels and how far the reach of agencies like the C.I.A. and the N.S.A. extends. Edward is doing his best to be careful. Glenn is more eager to get to the more key points of Ed's story but Laura encourages him to tell the whole thing.
Ed's story begins in 2003 (the present in the movie is 2013) when he is training to be special forces. He's already undersized and has a hard time meeting the physical requirements. In a freak accident, he falls out of his bunk bed in the barracks and his legs give out. He's required to complete physical therapy but he's told that the chances he can be a soldier are nil. While he's rehabbing he meets Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) through an internet chat room. They meet up in D.C. and despite them falling on different sides of the political spectrum, they fall in love. This is also the point that Edward decides to join the C.I.A.. He doesn't really meet the criteria being a high school dropout but his interviewer Corbin O'Brien (Rhys Ifans) sees genius in him and brings him aboard.
I think the most commendable thing that Snowden does it that it shows Edward as not just a hero but as a realistic person. When he joins the C.I.A. he's a die-hard Republican. He believes in the authority of the government. He begins to change with every different stop he makes serving his country and his mindset evolves instead of just flipping a switch. Edward functions as the audience avatar and through him we understand what's going on in a more complete way. He's not always a boy scout, he's possessive of Lindsay and while she's willing to change for him, he won't do it for her. He goes along with shady operations at different points as well. So while the movie absolutely paints him as a hero and a patriot, he's not a saint and I always find morally grey main characters easier to follow.
Another thing I liked about Snowden is that while it's obviously trying to setup Joseph Gordon-Levitt for an Oscar, there's a lot of good character actors in small parts. The acting all around is outstanding with one exception. Joseph is great here and it's one of the best performances I've seen this year. I haven't been a big fan of Shailene Woodley (she seems to be in the shadow of other actresses) but I felt like this was easily her best work. I liked the fact that they had really solid actors like Rhys Ifans, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Timothy Olyphant Tom Wilkinson and Nicolas Cage in smaller but important roles. They were all strong in Snowden. I would quickly note I thought Scott Eastwood was miscast. He's pretty wooden and it's hard to buy him as a tech genius.
I think that Snowden is also well filmed and well paced. The story has a nice framing device in that you get pieces of Snowden's life and then you flash to the present. If I had a complaint it's that Oliver Stone really likes to stick the visual effects in where they might not be needed. I had the same problem with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. They also repeat themselves sometimes about how real patriots don't blindly follow what the government says. There's a lot of good discussion about it but I don't need the same points driven home many different times, I'm paying attention and you can just trust the material to get itself across.
It's important to keep in mind that this is a dramatization and not a documentary. The movie isn't objective, Stone doesn't disguise whose side he's on and if you feel like Snowden is a traitor, you'll probably hate Snowden. I feel like this movie will play better for people who know little about the drama surrounding Edward Snowden. I thought this was not only an enlightening look into the ethics surrounding the role of government in the everyday lives of citizens in terms of security but a pretty good spy movie to boot. I feel like the truth wouldn't be this black and white and I still don't know the whole story but I will commend Edward Snowden for being brave, giving up what he did to get the message out and I feel it's important to protect the rights of whistle-blowers. This is a well-rounded biopic and an interesting story. As long as you're not vehemently against Snowden, I would absolutely recommend this.