Snowden Movie Review

Edward Snowden is a controversial figure among the United States government and public.  As a former CIA employee with top security clearance, Snowden copied and leaked classified information regarding the National Security Agency’s global surveillance programs that involved illegally spying on everyone through their personal electronics including U.S. citizens. SNOWDEN follows Edward’s journey to becoming a Central Intelligent Agent to a top technical and cyber security expert to his shocking discovery and ultimate action against government privacy violations.

Based on the book “The Snowden Files, The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man,” by journalist Luke Harding, SNOWDEN recaps Edward’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) story as he is confessing it to journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) in an undisclosed hotel room in Hong Kong. These 2013 moments would eventually be seen in the 2014 documentary CITIZENFOUR.

Joseph Godon-Levitt in Snowden

Edward Snowden has been called everything from a patriot to a traitor. But whatever your view may be, I believe it’s important to educate yourself on the man and what he was able to reveal.  SNOWDEN is a fascinating true story of one man’s seemingly impossible attempt to fight for his country by fighting the very system that controls it. Unfortunately, SNOWDEN isn’t always as excited as its message.  Some of the dramatization is entertaining but other moments drag on, spending too much time on details that are perhaps influential on the character but unnecessary to the film, like his medical issues or relationship with his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). Other familiar faces contribute positively (Rhys Ifans, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant)  or negatively (Nicholas Cage) but don’t have a whole lot of impact.

Joseph Godon-Levitt in Snowden

The one element that keeps SNOWDEN so engaging is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden.  Including last year’s THE WALK, the actor seems to have found an affection for playing characters from Academy Award winning documentaries. He commits to his roles with a passion and understanding like no other.  Maintaining his natural charisma, Gordon-Levitt gives Snowden the appropriate likability while staying true to Snowden’s robotic intelligence and socially reserved personality.

Director Oliver Stone has an affinity for stories in American history, usually with his own controversial spin or views. Films like PLATOON, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, JFK, NIXON, ALEXANDER, WORLD TRADE CENTER, and W prove the director is inspired by the effects of history. Even films like WALL STREET and NATURAL BORN KILLERS have broader messages about corruption and media. So it’s no wonder that Oliver Stone would gravitate toward the whistleblower.

Joseph Godon-Levitt in Snowden

With our nation’s strong social differences on race, gender, politics, and our current options for leadership, SNOWDEN isn’t just a relevant film about surveillance vs. privacy but also about liberty and freedom.  While the film is lacking in some areas, it is ultimately worth seeing and I appreciate Snowden’s courage to question and hope he is able to maintain his safety.

If you have never heard of Edward Snowden, I recommend watching the previously mentioned  CITIZENFOUR. Winner of the 2015 Academy Award for Best Documentary, it follows the secret interview with Edward Snowden and the ultimate publication of NSA documents.


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