Film #257: Snowden (2016)

snow1director: Oliver Stone
language: English and a bit of ASL
length: 134 minutes
watched on: 3 Jan 2017

It’s taken me a pretty long time to even tease out of the torrent of negativity over the past few years the difference between Edward Snowden and others like Assange and Manning, so I was half-expecting this to be about Wikileaks. Actually Snowden was the one who leaked stuff about mass surveillance in the NSA directly to the Guardian, and has now ended up hiding out in Russia through a series of unlikely coincidences. This movie, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, kind of assumes you know that background already. It attempts to follow Snowden’s career from start to eventual downfall.

The movie also recreates key scenes from Citizenfour, the documentary filmed in a hotel in Hong Kong, where the real Snowden leaked the details of various government spying schemes to the Guardian. A scene near the beginning where Snowden introduces himself to camera is a direct nod to this, or at least I assume so, having not seen that other movie. I’ve heard that Citizenfour is more suspenseful and nail-biting than this, though.

The rest of the film starts with him going to Boot Camp for the army, but breaking his leg and ending up entering the CIA as an unusually bright computer technician instead. He’s a supporter of Bush and socially conservative at the time – in contrast to later, when he becomes disillusioned. The film takes a lot of pains to reiterate that he’s not some unpatriotic asshole, and it gets a bit tiresome after a while.

Basically there’s no real spark to the movie – it deals almost exclusively in stereotypes. Snowden is a nerd? OK, let’s have him play with a Rubik’s Cube in his introductory scenes. He went to boot camp? OK, his sergeant is so over-the-top he might as well have been in Full Metal Jacket. Now he’s hacking into computers? OK, how about some overwrought CGI to illustrate that? I get that hacking is difficult to portray on film, but it’s just annoying. They do also have Linux boot screens and screens full of text, but it’s kind of secondary to CGI showing how Snowden’s brain ticks in these otherwise tense moments.

There’s a scene in about the second act of the film when Snowden has a big argument with his girlfriend in the second act, and I just realized the other thing is Gordon-Levitt’s acting is unusually wooden. I didn’t fully buy him as the character, basically. I think all the stereotypical Hollywood stuff I mentioned contributed to that.

Anyway, it was enjoyable enough and I now feel slightly less jumbled-up about what’s going on. I feel a bit disappointed that this kind of thing is not protested more, especially in the UK.

Anyone else seen it? What do you think?

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One Response to Film #257: Snowden (2016)

  1. Pingback: Film #258: Jason Bourne (2016) | reuoq

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