Film Review: Snowden

Snowden

Oliver Stone’s Snowden mixes biopic with political thriller. It is an enjoyable enough watch.

In June 2013, Edward Snowden meets with filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald in a hotel room in Hong Kong. Intelligence contractor Snowden wishes to blow the whistle on mass surveillance techniques by the NSA…

How do you make a recent and very well publicised event an interesting enough subject for a feature film? By making it a personal story. At least, this is what director-writer Oliver Stone and co-writer Kieran Fitzgerald have done. Most viewers will be aware of Edward Snowden and his whistle-blowing activities, so Stone needs to offer them a hook. He does this by combining a biopic format with the minutae of the events that occurred in June 2013, when The Guardian first broke the NSA story.

The title character’s story is told in flashbacks marking pivotal eras in his adult life. Those who are unaware of Edward’s background will certainly find this interesting. It charts the journey of a conservative protagonist who wants to serve his country, to a cynical individual who wants to inform the world. In this sense, Gabriel Sol’s nickname for him, Snow White, seems very apt.

Edward encounters several characters that have an impact on him. Significant to the personal story is his relationship with girlfriend Lindsay. However, it terms of personal revelation, his relationships with colleagues and mentors is more pertinent. As the film progresses, the reason he decided to whistle blow becomes abundantly clear.

The present day activity is mildly interesting, but does not hold the same weight as the flashbacks. Whilst it is entertaining to see how Edward got the information through security, the later scenes in Hong Kong are less exciting. Here, Stone aims for tension in exhibiting the meetings between the protagonists and journalists, and his escape from the hotel. However, as most viewers will know about Edward Snowden, it fails to achieve the palpable tension the film is aiming for.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a solid performance as Edward. Shailene Woodley is well cast as Lindsay, as are Scott Eastwood and Ben Schnetzer in minor roles. Nicolas Cage is joyous in his small appearances.  The subject matter is certainly up Oliver Stone’s street. Whilst mildly entertaining, Snowden does not deliver the insight or energy of Stone’s earlier pictures.

Snowden is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

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