“Snowden” is Director Oliver Stone’s latest attempt to inflame public opinion through the art of filmmaking. His subject this time is the story of Edward Snowden, the man whose whistle blowing on NSA surveillance procedures was expected to bring the U.S. spy enterprise to a grinding halt. That did not happen. But Stone wants to remind us of the courage of the man who brought those procedures to light.
Three years after Snowden’s revelations, we still have a difference of opinion in this country about what tools the U.S. Government needs at its disposal to stop terrorists. Such tools may, as we see in the film, require that all personal electronic communications in the United States and around the world be monitored for the purpose of sifting out the bad guys from the rest of us. Is this the price we are willing to pay for our technology and for our government to protect us from attack? Or is this a breach of the contract we have with our government, allowing it to run roughshod over our civil liberties? Such questions are for us to debate outside this forum, as my humble task here is just to review a film.
The film starts in a Hong Kong hotel where investigative journalists from The Guardian, Laura Poitras (played by Melissa Leo) and Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), meet up with Edward Snowden. As Poitras films, she and Greenwald interview Snowden about his career in the government and the pressures his work put on his budding relationship with girlfriend Lindsey Mills (Shailene Woodley).
We learn that as a result of 9-11, Edward Snowden had attempted to join the Special Forces, but failed physically. He then sought to serve his country using his greater skill, his intellect. He was hired and trained by the CIA to rout out hackers, eventually getting a field assignment in Geneva, Switzerland. Later he worked for the NSA in Japan, Maryland and Hawaii. Increasingly, he became incredulous of the intrusiveness of surveillance methods the US government was using.
Gordon-Levitt is convincing as Snowden and Shailene Woodley offers a complex character as Mills, the live-in girlfriend with whom Snowden can share nothing of the moral anguish he faces in his work. Other fine performances are found in the roles of Corbin O’Brien (Rhys Ifans) and Hank Forrester (Nicholas Cage). As the tension mounts in the film, a fine score heightens our sense of impending breakdown. In the finale, Gordon-Levitt’s Snowden morphs into the real Edward Snowden as he was filmed in Moscow.
Regardless of how one might view Snowden himself and what he did, the film tries to be informative about the infrastructure of the intelligence community, especially the surveillance and computer counter-hacking aspect of it. The locations are interesting, too, as we see Hong Kong, D.C., Geneva, Tokyo, Oahu and Moscow. This is a film for people willing to reconsider this piece of history. Snowden is rated “R for language and some sexuality/nudity.” It certainly is a compelling drama.