Release date: 9th December 2016/Watch the trailer here
Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone, is a dramatisation of the real events that took place from 2004 to 2013, leading to NSA employee Edward Snowden leaking the agency’s illegal surveillance techniques by distributing classified documents to the press.
The difficulty with making a film based on recent events that were (and still are) very much in the public eye is trying to find a side of the story that people haven’t already heard – particularly so in the case of Snowden, when the documentary Citizenfour was released just two years ago. Stone hasn’t quite managed to achieve this, and with Snowden he has played it as safe as possible. For those who haven’t seen the documentary or are largely unaware of who Edward Snowden is, however, Stone has at the very least succeeded in creating an informative piece of entertainment that begins to convey the gravity of what Snowden did.
The film opens in 2013, with Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room with the woman behind Citizenfour, Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), and two journalists from The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson). Snowden jumps from the events that took place in that hotel room to telling the story of how Snowden ended up there through a series of flashbacks, starting with his short-lived stint in the army in 2004, and including his relationship with his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley).
This relationship feels like one of the only elements of Snowden with which Stone has taken some artistic license, but it does serve the purpose of giving the audience a more personal connection to Snowden. On the other hand, Snowden comes in at a good fifteen minutes too long as it is, and it feels like there is much that could have easily been cut and wouldn’t have been missed.
Ultimately, though, Snowden does not feel as memorable as it should do. There’s no problem with simply presenting the facts of a true story to your audience, but there is an issue when some of these facts are rather bland and have already been told before at great length. Stone had an opportunity to create something thought-provoking, and he had all of the ingredients to make it work, too – a controversial story still at the forefront of the public’s minds, and a great cast to help tell it. From a political perspective, the film was a real risk – plenty of fingers are pointed throughout and Stone has chosen to portray Snowden as a hero, with little room for debate or disagreement. Nothing else about Snowden feels risky at all, though. It’s watchable enough without ever being absorbing; informative without being particularly enlightening. The result is a film that instead succeeds in very little else other than the absolute basics of Edward Snowden’s story.