Review: Snowden – Citizenbore

SnowdenWhen writer, director and national conspiracy master, Oliver Stone, takes on one of the biggest scandals of our time – the United States government’s global surveillance of everything – it should be like shooting fish in a barrel for the iconic filmmaker. Unfortunately, the resulting movie, Snowden, has that same cornered fish-shooting level of excitement.

The 2014 documentary Citizenfour, the real-life film about Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency (NSA) revelations, is a much better and more informative film than Stone’s dramatization of that same material – which has also been covered, ad nauseam, in the nightly news; which makes the Snowden producers’ decision to greenlight this picture rather baffling.

Stone, as we know, is a very capable writer/director, and the film’s subject matter is also of great importance, but, let’s face it, movies are a visual medium and computer hacking is visually boring, if not downright sleep-inducing. (The exception here is USA Network’s incredible series, Mr. Robot, which has A LOT of other things going for it.)

Add Snowden’s mild-mannered, Clark Kent-ish demeanor to the inherent dullness of sitting in front of a computer monitor and you have a movie that, despite its significance, is boring as Hell. Citizenbore, if you will.

This isn’t a bad movie, but Stone should have learned a lesson from last year’s The Big Short and told a different story that could have been punched up with some humor, action, or something…anything!

Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) covers the beleaguered computer analyst’s life from his short-lived enlistment in the Army through his classified work for the CIA and NSA, up to and including his disillusionment with those agencies and his subsequent whistleblowing of their nefarious surveillance activities.

SnowdenIntermingled throughout the story is Snowden’s often shaky relationships with his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), and his professional mentors, Hank Forrester (Nicolas Cage) and Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans) – and I’m not sure if those last two are real people or not. I probably don’t want to know.

The film also stars Melissa Leo as Laura Poitras (the director of the aforementioned Citizenfour); Zachary Quinto as journalist Glenn Greenwald; and Tom Wilkinson as Scottish journalist Ewen MacAskill. The cast is adequate, but there are no award-winning performances here.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt speaks in a voice that tries to duplicate the real Edward Snowden’s deep, monotonous tone, and it didn’t work for me – to the point of being a distraction. The film would have been much better served if the actor, who otherwise delivers a decent performance, had used his own voice.

And speaking of distractions, the film’s pièce de résistance is a transition from Gordon-Levitt to the real-life Edward Snowden, towards the end of the movie; which then transitions into an end credits sequence with Mr. Snowden featured in a Peter Gabriel music video that ‘goofy’ only begins to describe.

I was excited to see this film, and despite all his conspiracy theorist glory, I like Oliver Stone and his films; and I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt; I’m even in the basket of people who consider Snowden a hero who should be pardoned and allowed to return home; heck, I even like Peter Gabriel; but, given the extensive prior coverage of this man and this subject, this movie is simply irrelevant and tiresome – but maybe that’s what the government wants us to think. Grade: 5/10       

Photos © 2016 Open Road Films

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.