Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Kieran Fitzgerald and Oliver Stone
Based on: “The Snowden Files” by Luke Harding and “Time of the Octopus” by Anatoly Kucherena
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, Scott Eastwood, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson and Nicolas Cage
Release Date: September 16, 2016
Runtime: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Rating: Rated R for “language and some sexuality/nudity”
Plot Summary: “The true story of NSA employee, Edward Snowden, who leaked thousands of classified documents to the press.”
What I like to see in a biographical film is the filmmakers presenting the person whose life they are adapting in an unbiased and neutral way. Movies like “Jobs” (2013), “Steve Jobs” (2015), “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (2013) and “Walk the Line” (2005) all do a fantastic job at this because by the end of the movie, the audience can decide whether or not they care for the person whose life was just presented before them. I went into Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” (2016), expecting to have a neutral look at Edward Snowden presented to me, but unfortunately that was not what happened.
Before I get into that, though, I first want to point out the positives of this movie: put simply, this is Oliver Stone’s best film in a long, long time. His previous flops that rose from “Alexander” (2004), “World Trade Center” (2006), “W.” (2008), “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (2010) and “Savages” (2012) are washed away by the cinematic creativity and ingenuity of “Snowden”. This movie is perfectly edited and shot, so I had no complaints on the technological side of “Snowden”.
I also did not have any complaints on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of Edward Snowden or Rhys Ifans’ portrayal of Corbin O’Brian. Ifans infused curiosity and mystery into the complex role of his character while Joseph Gordon-Levitt mastered the mannerisms, movements, voice, story and look of Edward Snowden perfectly.
Now that I have covered the positives, let’s move on to the negatives: the only two performances that really stood out to me were Levitt’s and Ifans’; everyone else gave a mediocre or awkward performance which is unfortunate because there are so many talented actors and actresses on the cast. Scott Eastwood was incredibly arrogant in his role, Nicolas Cage acted like he was forced to do this movie and did not want to be there, Zachary Quinto was ridiculously over-the-top and Shailene Woodley kept switching back and forth between a ditsy pole dancer to a concerned and heartbroken woman in a relationship with a spy. I wished they had utilized the powerful acting capabilities of the cast members and not just left them to be “the supporting roles”.
The mediocre performances, however, was not what irritated me the most; what irritated me about “Snowden” is that there is no way whatsoever that someone could watch this movie and then walk out of it believing he is a traitor. This is, without a doubt, one of the most (if not the most) biased movies I have ever seen in my life. At no point in the 2 hour, 14 minute runtime is the US government’s side of this conflict shown; it is 150% focused on making everyone believe Edward Snowden is a heroic patriot. It is more concerned with making audiences root for him then it is on educating people about surveillance processes that government agencies use. I walked out of this movie wishing there had been, at least, an acknowledgement of the good that can come from surveillance, but instead, I had to live with the fact that the United States government is played out to be the antagonist of this story.
My verdict on Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” is a “B+”. I will not be surprised if “Snowden” shows up in Oscar categories next February and I am also not surprised to hear that many people hate this movie. My advice is this; if you have a firm and adamant opinion on government surveillance and/or Edward Snowden, do not bother seeing this movie because there is a 50-50 chance that you will end up being disappointed. If you are open to the course of the story however and are willing to go through the ride Oliver Stone takes you on, I would recommend seeing this. It was definitely worth the price of the ticket because this is an intense, informative and interesting story that I believe is important for Americans to watch; just understand that this movie is much more biased than it should have been.