Review of 'Snowden'

snowden.jpg 'Snowden' is a Hollywood version of the Edward Snowden story - The US security contractor that revealed details of mass surveillance of American civilians in 2013 by passing over details to the Guardian newspaper. The documentary of this story has been previously told in CitizenFour but here we get the emotional hit missing from that earlier film. The film is actually based on the books “The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man” by Luke Harding and “Time of the Octopus” by Anatoly Kucherena.

The story is told as a series of flashbacks by Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) while is revealing the top secret details of surveillance from a luxury hotel in Hong Kong in June 2013 to documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and columnist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), later joined by Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), an intelligence reporter from The Guardian. The story begins in 2004 with Snowden having to drop out of Special Forces boot camp when he suffers compound fractures in his leg. Looking for another way to serve his country he uses his aptitude with computers to join the CIA where he joins a class taught by Corbin O'Brian (Rhys Ifans) where he excels. He befriends a disillusioned professor Hank Forrester (Nicolas Cage) who he immediately takes a liking to and learns details about the agency he has joined. Snowden strikes up a relationship with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) who joins him in his first posting in Geneva, Switzerland though his early optimism is questioned as he is put in an uncomfortable position blackmailing a local financier to further ambitions within the CIA. Deciding to leave the CIA we pick up the story in 2009 where Snowden is now working for Dell selling NSA computer upgrades but he is not happy with this though he is back working in the US where Lindsay is now developing her own career in photography. Later he is assigned to work at an airbase in Tokyo where he is tasked with advising on how to protect from Chinese hackers. Offered a position in Hawaii his eyes are opened even further as to what exactly the American security establishment is doing…

This movie is certainly puts forward a very positive perspective on Snowden's activities, painting him as a “true blue” American always wanting to do the best for his country but his faith called into question with what he learns and the internal turmoil he faces with his girlfriend who he cannot share his concerns with but nonetheless drives his actions.

The film certainly looks very “Hollywood” including many views of glitzy and glamorous-looking computer rooms (which Snowden himself told Stone was not terribly realistic) as well as the requisite love story on the side (including a bit of flesh though this is used to point out the possibility that even this is being watched by the CIA). Whether this is good or not I think this probably does make the story more accessible to the general public in what is, frankly, quite a technical and intricate story. In doing this some of the nuances are lost but the underlying theme of Snowden being torn with his love for his country and seeing what government agencies do under the cloak of state secrecy. Outwardly the monitoring of citizens is done in the name of fighting terrorism but often in reality it is used for political gain.

I found the film gripping and engaging with a pace that really kept the London Film Festival audience interested. I would like to hope that people do not take the story as a work of fiction but realize that the subject of this movie is very much a reality…at the very least people might be more interested in covering up their computer cameras…


Review Date: 2016-10-16

Directed by: Oliver Stone

Studio: Endgame Entertainment

Year: 2016

Length: 134 minutes

Genre: Melodrama