Edward Snowden is a figure of great controversy, bringing about enormous praise, enormous criticism, and enormous amounts of somewhere-in-the-middle. As such, he’s the perfect character for Oliver Stone to turn his camera to in another ‘rewriting of official history’, for which he’s so well known. To regard Snowden as simply a film is to ignore what Stone attempts in his filmmaking, and to disregard the various academic accolades he is awarded (perhaps most recently, a PhD from the University of Warwick).
The film takes on many tropes of the great biopics, but thankfully starts a little later in his life than most, preferring to begin at his military selection rather than childhood. The story develops in two parts: the first, and the frame of Snowden, is a hotel room in Hong Kong where he is preparing to leak the story which made him famous; the second is a series of episodes from his life, which run concurrent to the meeting in the hotel. It is a fairly standard structure for telling this kind of story, not too dissimilar to Citizen Kane, but it stands strong today as an effective one.
“at no point are you uncertain whose fervent preaching hand the picture came from”
Snowden himself is portrayed outstandingly by the ever-impressive Joseph Gordon-Levitt, even managing to capture the voice of the man without appearing an impersonation. His girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, is also lent a real-enough depiction by Shailene Woodley, and many of the supporting cast really do shine. The always under-used Timothy Olyphant appears as an abhorrent agent in the field, Rhys Ifans also impresses as his tutor at the CIA, and Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, and Tom Wilkinson build a beautiful atmosphere in Hong Kong. This time, however, Nicolas Cage was perhaps a questionable casting choice.
As ever, ‘hacking’ on screen elicits a bit of a sigh, but it’s more capably handled than many other attempts, and certainly a necessary feature of the story. Cinematically the film is, barring a couple of missteps, stunning. An even more impressive feat when paired with the difficulty they had in actually producing Snowden: having to hide their location, film abroad more often than they wanted, and even stop filming once. Research of the man’s life can’t have been easy either, especially with the personal tone that the film establishes.
Snowden is ostensibly a member of Oliver Stone’s filmography – at no point are you uncertain whose fervent preaching hand the picture came from.
Image: Oliver Stone