Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone, offers a comprehensive and expansive look at Edward Snowden. The film is extremely intentional in its focus, and also very detailed in its offerings. While it is perhaps a little long in the tooth, it certainly can’t be said that the film doesn’t share as much of the story as it possibly can. I foresee this film dividing audiences – because of its approach – and so getting into the film and reviewing it, is something I’m eager to do. So let’s get to it.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the film tells the true story – though much like the film states in the beginning, with some slight ‘dramatization’, of how Edward Snowden – played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt – became a wanted fugitive.
Over the course of the films 2 hours and 10 minute runtime, I was satisfied with just how much of Edward Snowden’s story, the film was able to touch upon. I really felt that I got an expansive and well explored look into the events that led up to the story that everyone is now very familiar with. Oliver Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald constructed a script that really gives the story time to breathe; never feeling like it just passes over things that are necessary for the audience to know. Now I’m not saying that the film is a full and complete story of Edward Snowden, and that it never misses parts out. I just personally feel the film was able to touch upon enough, to make it feel like a more complete story.
Structurally, the film worked for me as well. While it wasn’t the most inventive way of telling the story – that being that we see Snowden in a later point in life, recounting the events (which means narrative voiceover) that got him to a hotel room in Hong Kong, surrounded my journalists and a documentary filmmaker. While the narrative voiceover never got tiresome of intrusive, it is still something that I’m not the biggest fan of. It just screams, ‘Hey we took the book, and very lazily turned it into a screenplay.’
One of the aspects of the film I was sure was going to be eye-roll worthy, was the films approach to all of the techno-babble and “hacker” talk. Thankfully the film didn’t get bogged down in it; it was able to navigate a lot of the more complicated stuff with some scenes that felt genuine in their explanations – no awkward expository scenes. Now that doesn’t mean the film is without moments with tech-jargon; as there are absolutely times in the film where it quite sloppily attempts to explain some NSA programme, that comes with a silly sounding name. But while the film isn’t without techno-babble, it does do a good enough job of not forever falling into the trap of sounding awkward or noticeably out-of-place.
The aspect of the film that could have easily been the greatest failing was its lead performance. Snowden as a film, hinged on a strong, concise, believable lead performance, and I’m happy to say that, Joseph Gordon-Levitt absolutely becomes the character. From a very particular tone in his voice, to certain little mannerisms, Levitt does a commendable job of becoming the strong lead performance that the film needed. So even with a few of Levitt’s quirks sneaking through every once in a while, I still never was distracted or put off by any little hiccups in his portrayal of Edward Snowden. I was apprehensive when I first heard he was the lead in the film, but those concerns were quickly squashed, once I saw what he was achieving.
The satisfaction I had for the telling of Edward Snowden’s story also transfers into my satisfaction with the exploration of Edward Snowden as a person. Seeing the troubled, compelling story of Snowden’s love life with, Lindsay Mills – played by Shailene Woodley – really did add another layer to Snowden, as a person. The film really benefited from having the human side of Snowden’s life, alongside the cold, mechanical work that was so integral to his story. Both aspects were balanced in the time that they were given, and really did help to further expand on who Edward Snowden was, and is, as a person.
Certainly an interesting aspect of the film was Oliver Stone’s style. It was one that made the bland world of computers and government organisations seem interesting and memorable. However, that style that he brought wasn’t always consistent; camera placement and movement, the format in which some information was delivered etc. I was more than once, distracted by Stone’s approach to certain elements of the film, and would have preferred he found the visual tone of the film and stuck to it.
When I look back on my time with Snowden, I am happy with the film I got. If I’m being honest; I didn’t walk into this film with high expectations. So coming out of the cinema, I was pleasantly surprised at the coherent, compelling film that I watched. Now, I could have absolutely done with the film being a little shorter, and tightened up in some areas – nearer the end, the film started to lose momentum, and it really killed the impact of some of the later moments. Still, I got a film that I feel worked.
So I will be recommending, Snowden. The film enlightened me on aspects of Edward Snowden’s life that I was unaware of, and it did a good job of introducing the human side to a person that is primarily thought of in a lonely, computer filled world. If Edward Snowden is someone you are interested in, then this film is definitely worth seeing.
I’m really interested to know your thoughts/opinions on, Snowden. Let me know in the comments down below. Either following my blog directly, or following me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle are the best ways to be kept up-to-date on when I post a new review. Thanks for taking the time to read my writing, it really does mean a lot.